Grad School Doesn't Always Equal Career Advancement

Education must complement your experience, not replace it.


If you've got job-search woes, promotion troubles, or career confusion, grad school is not the answer. Learn the five reasons to skip grad school when you're at a crossroads, and what you should do instead:

1. There isn't a high enough return. More than ever, job seekers are going back to grad school, and without the promise of a job when they graduate. The average debt per student loan borrower is $23,000. While it's possible that an advanced degree may bring you a higher salary, it's not guaranteed. What is guaranteed is the financial stress you'll feel when you add to your debt. Grad school is a high-risk investment, with little promise of a return.

2. Employers look for results, not education. Your education provides a great foundation, but in-demand high-performers have real-world experience in getting results in their particular field. Compelling experience reigns supreme over education every time. Education should complement your experience, not replace it. If you're using grad school as a resume filler, no one is going to be impressed.

3. Grad school is a poor differentiator. A degree doesn't differentiate you from other candidates. It only signifies that you've completed schooling. It reveals nothing about your marketable skills. Moreover, the majority of today's workers don't use their degree, and pursued a different field of study in school than the field they work in. Unless you absolutely need an advanced degree for your chosen career (i.e., you want to be a lawyer, doctor, or clinical social worker), focus on other ways to stand out.

4. It's better to do something, not just learn about it. Having vague interests or multiple passions is not an excuse to defer life. If you don't know what you want to do with your career, grad school will not reveal it. Instead of learning about different topics of study, go out and try different jobs. Volunteer, be a researcher for a day, take on an internship. You can't guess what you'll be good at and enjoy doing; you have to try.

5. Success is based on relationships. Ultimately, career success is based on your relationships, and how well you can network. That's why business school is so expensive. You're paying for the relationships you make there, not just the education. But you can build relationships outside of school. To network successfully, you simply have to help solve other people's problems. Introduce your contacts to a new client or vendor, or recommend an awesome restaurant.

Grad school can cost your pocketbook and your career. Focus on differentiating yourself and advancing your career with your skills, expertise, and experience—not your degree.

Rebecca Thorman's weekly blog Kontrary offers tips to create the career, bank account, and life you love, and is a popular destination for young professionals. Her goal is to help you find meaningful work, enjoy the heck out of it, and earn more money. She writes from Washington, D.C.

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