By Sojourner White
One of the biggest dilemmas undergraduate students face is whether to pursue graduate school right after away or take time off. There are a multitude of factors to consider, including personal finances and career aspirations, and processing those while finishing undergraduate coursework is a lot to balance. Those students who know they have to go to graduate school are enticed to go straight out of undergrad. Other students are burnt out and looking for a break, but most are still figuring out what they want to come next. Regardless, debating between working or more schooling after so many years is a difficult decision no matter your state of mind.
For the students considering taking a break to work, this post is here to help! While there are many reasons to go straight through from undergraduate to graduate school, there are many reasons to take a break too. Making this decision is not one you have to do on your own, and the advantages of work experience can be overlooked. To provide the positive side, let’s break down five advantages of getting work experience before graduate school.
1. You can save up money for graduate school
In case you haven’t heard, graduate school costs money! Thus, working for a year, or a few years, can put you in a better financial position to pay for some of the potential costs. Even though there are opportunities and programs that will pay your entire tuition, it’s always good to have some money to cover any unexpected costs. You also have to think about the cost of living in the destination of your graduate school and covering those costs while balancing your graduate school responsibilities. Therefore, saving money upfront can help you manage any headaches down the road.
2. You can set yourself up for more job opportunities after graduating
Though it may seem appealing to go from undergraduate straight to graduate school without working, the job prospects may say otherwise. Many jobs post-graduate school want students who have a year or two of full-time work experience, minimum. Internships could count toward this, yet that depends on the employer and the position. Though it may seem easier to breeze straight through undergraduate and graduate school at the time, thinking about the long-game can be pivotal to your future success.
To know if your desired program or profession prefers work experience, search for jobs that you may want in the future. Resources such as LinkedIn, Indeed, or even ProFellow can give you a sneak peek into that ideal applicant. You can search by job title, scroll through job postings about organizations you admire, and even start reaching out to people you admire to learn more about their journey. Be sure to pay close attention to the qualifications, skills, and experience sections on the job descriptions.
3. You can figure out what you do and don’t want in a workplace
Getting a job after completing your undergraduate degree is an introduction to work-life that also has its ups and downs. Similar to your undergraduate years being trial and error, your early work experiences can be too. In addition to adjusting to the workflow and responsibilities, you learn about office culture, office politics, and interpersonal communication in the workplace. Understanding how to navigate a work environment is just as important as enhancing those Microsoft Office skills. Figuring out what kind of workplace you do, and do not, like can make it easier to decipher good internship or practicum opportunities in graduate school.
4. You can clarify your graduate school aspirations
Studying content in school for a profession can be very different from practicing in said profession. Working before graduate school can provide insight into your chosen field before you dedicate one, two, or even three years pursuing another degree. You may get a job similar to or even directly in your field after graduation and realize it’s not what you thought. Or, you may get the job and realize how much you need to go to graduate school to rise in that field. Either way, your career dreams will have more clarity if you go for it and work before graduate school. You will find out that sometimes, our aspirations may not be what we thought, and working can be a way to figure that out.
5. You can have more leverage in your application process
When you experience more, you understand more. Depending on your career path and program of choice, having more work experience can be seen as a positive. Some graduate programs prefer applicants to have a year, two, or more under their belts before applying. It shows maturity, dedication, and commitment to the chosen profession before the program itself begins. Leveraging those real-life work experiences will not only look good on your resume or CV, but they will also make for compelling stories in your personal statement. You will be able to connect your past education to current practices and then reflect on what you’ve learned thus far in your career in your statement.
Additionally, playing up those skills you got while working can set you apart in both the admissions process and the fellowship distribution process. Everyone is vying for these positions and leaning on that work experience can give you a competitive edge. These opportunities can also be the gateway to a fully-funded degree or at least a nice-paying on-campus job. Work experience can make you more qualified for competitive graduate fellowships, so don’t sell you (or your skills) short!
Working after completing your undergraduate degree is not as intimidating as it seems. Take some time to reflect and think about what you really want and need and then plan accordingly. Leaving school can feel uncomfortable at first. However, so much good can come from working before graduate school. Make a good, old-fashioned pros and cons list if you need to see how it balances! At the end of the day, the choice is yours. Good luck.
Sojourner White holds a Master’s of Social Work in International Development from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to graduate school, she taught English in Spain as a Fulbright Fellow and served in the AmeriCorps program Public Allies. She currently does intersectional race and health equity consulting with organizations to redesign their practices for more equitable, community-minded outcomes. You can also find Sojourner writing on her travel blog Sojournies, where she offers tips and resources to encourage students and young professionals to make travel part of their lifestyles.
© Victoria Johnson 2020, all rights reserved