Every year, thousands of seniors graduate from Ohio State with a diploma in hand and doubt in their minds.
After finishing their undergraduate degrees, new alumni are faced with the dilemma of entering the “real world” either through a job or pursuing a graduate degree.
To work or not to work? That’s the multi-thousand-dollar question.
“It depends,” said Tara Cavo, an OSU graduate student and counselor at Career Connection in The Younkin Success Center. “It really depends on the individual and the field that you’re going into.”
Cyndi Freeman, the director of graduate school recruitment and diversity initiatives at OSU, had a more direct answer for students debating whether to go to graduate school.
“Graduate school only benefits you if you know what you want to do,” Freeman said. “Graduate school cannot be a default.”
Out of the nearly 64,000 students at OSU, almost 11,000 are graduate students and about 3,300 are professional students, according to an OSU-provided statistical summary released last fall.
“How many freshmen psychology majors do you know?” Freeman said. “The average Ph.D. program takes 10 to 12 students in psychology.”
Freeman said many students make the mistake of thinking their graduate lifestyle will be the same as their undergraduate lifestyle.
“There’s a lot more to graduate school than grades on the paper,” said Edwin Lee, a doctoral student in electrical engineering. “There’s extra responsibility.”
Freeman agreed with Lee. She said graduate students are expected to put in roughly 36 hours of work to support the 12 hours they spend in class.
Despite a weakened economy, Cavo said more students are trying their luck in the job market rather than going to graduate school.
“I think it’s important to just take this break and work,” said Devin Graham, an OSU alumna who currently works in human resources at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. in Columbus, Ohio.
Graham said she plans to return to graduate school after gaining some experience in the workforce.
“They don’t take people with no work experience in the MBA program,” Graham said. “I know that I’ll go back.”
Like Graham, many students vow to return to graduate school, but some find it hard to make the transition back to a student lifestyle after spending time in the workforce.
“It depends on the conviction of the individual,” Freeman said. “It’s really hard to go back to living like a student.”
Cavo agreed and said people returning to school forget how hectic student life can be once they create a routine in the workforce.
“You get used to the income,” Cavo said. “When you get used to being a student again, you always have stuff hanging over your head.”
Lee said he struggled with his decision of continuing the student lifestyle when he had the opportunity to make more money with a job.
“It’s always hard for engineering students because we can leave undergrad and get a $50,000-a-year job,” Lee said.
Ultimately, Lee decided to go to graduate school because he said it was best for his future. Both Freeman and Cavo advise students to thoroughly research graduate schools before committing to a program.
“When you’re looking for a graduate school, it’s like you’re taking another class,” Freeman said.
Cavo advises prospective graduate students to look at all the factors when making the decision to pursue a graduate degree.
Cavo also said gaining work experience could be beneficial to prospective graduate students who do not have a strong academic record.
“I definitely thought I was more ready to go into the workforce,” Graham said. “If I work now, I’ll be able to decide what to do later.”
Graham said she didn’t want to rush her decisions about entering graduate school. She said the planning and organizational skills she applies at her job would help her succeed when she returns to graduate school.
“When I decide to go back, I would have a concrete plan,” Graham said.
Although it may be beneficial to remain in the school mindset, Cavo said students should consider partners, the possibility of relocating and loan responsibilities in their decision.
“Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and not trying to put off the anxiety of entering into the real world,” Cavo said.