To Go or Not to Go
Attending graduate school might seem like an ideal way to wait out the recession. By the time you've earned a degree, the thinking goes, any uncertainty surrounding the economy will be ironed out, and job prospects will be brighter. For Generation Y workers, who have been hit hard by the downturn, this strategy can be especially appealing because many graduated with four-year degrees not long ago, and a return to school would not be a difficult a transition to make -- especially if it pays off in the end.
A poor job market shouldn't be your primary reason to go back to school, however. In addition to the cost and time required to complete a graduate program, there are several factors that could mean a return to the ivory halls isn't the right move for your career. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:
What will the job market really be like?
Ideally, any program you attend should be directly applicable to the professional discipline you pursue and make it more likely you'll find employment following graduation. Research the field you want to enter and consider its future career prospects. Remember, it may take several years to earn an advanced degree, and the demand for workers in that industry can change dramatically between now and then. Long-term growth is forecast in areas such as health care and green technology; these professions may warrant your consideration. A good source for information on future employment trends is the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, whose "Occupational Outlook Handbook" outlines expected job prospects for hundreds of positions.
Would bolstering your work experience be better?
If you've just earned a four-year degree and don't need an advanced degree to pursue your chosen position, bolstering your work experience may be your best option. Keep in mind that there are ways to gain experience other than through full-time employment. Consider temporary work, internships or volunteer opportunities. In addition to adding to your work history, spending some time "in the trenches" can also help you better formulate your career goals and determine what form of advanced education -- if any -- is right for you.
Have you considered the alternatives?
You don't have to pursue a formal degree to strengthen your roster of professional skills. Attending classes at a local community college or pursuing an industry certification could give you the boost in marketability needed to land a new position. Other alternatives, such as volunteer work or internships, are also effective ways to obtain applicable skills and continue learning without the time and monetary commitment a graduate degree requires.
When jobs are difficult to come by, going to graduate school can feel like a way to achieve professional progress. Earning an advanced degree has proved beneficial for many people's careers. But before you jump in headfirst, give careful thought to your decision and determine if going back to school is the only way to reach your goal.
Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm, with a global network of more than 360 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, please visit http://www.rhi.com/.
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