November 08, 2011

Post-Graduation: Grad-School or Work?

First of all, let me preface this post by saying that my goal is not necessarily to talk anyone out of earning a masters degree or anything like that. My goal is simply to provide an alternative perspective at a time when more people are heading to grad school than ever before. If going back to school after achieving your first degree is what you want to do then go for it! But if you're thinking of going back just because of outside pressures around you, then this article is especially for you.

It's about a year and a half since I earned my bachelor's degree and by now it seems like just about all of my friends who earned their degrees with me are either working towards their next degree or have already earned it. On occasion, it definitely makes me feel a bit like an underachiever. I guess since I once was looked upon as the overachiever, it feels weird to be the one who isn't furthering her education. These days it seems that people with bachelor's degrees are a dime a dozen, so what do I have that makes me stand out from the crowd? Well, for one thing, the big trade-off I have for not going to grad school is over one year of experience in my field. Is this an even trade? Well, it depends on the company you're applying to, to be honest. I applied to quite a few companies after I graduated and most of them turned me away because they were looking for someone with more experience. There was only one company that told me they wanted a masters degree for the entry level position (and I'm willing to bet those are few and far between). If it were a company that I really had my heart set on, I would probably have gone to grad school for them, but since that wasn't the case, I moved on.

And considering the job I currently have pretty much found me (don't ever believe people who tell you posting your resume on job sites doesn't work because guess what... sometimes it DOES!), I am well aware at the amazing luck of my situation. In fact, at the time, I was preparing myself for an interview for an unpaid internship because if I couldn't get a job due to lack of experience then I was going to get some experience dammit! You see, if the poor economy and the experience catch-22 get in your way post-graduation, then I believe you should do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door even if it means being an overqualified intern for a little while.

Yet, even though I have a job and a year of experience, every now and again someone will ask me "So, are you planning on getting your masters?" and I stop and wonder if I should. Yet every time I consider it, I reach the conclusion that I don't really need a master's degree. As a user interface designer, I'm not sure what I could gain from a master's degree that I wouldn't otherwise gain through work experience, online and published resources, and conference events. For a medical professional, additional schooling is not only required but it makes sense. Right now, where I am, I don't feel like it makes sense for me. This is totally a personal call.

Now, that is not to say that I'm forever completely turned off of the idea of getting my master's. It's probably something I will reconsider every now and again for pretty much the rest of the life. As long as my answer is that it doesn't make sense for me to do so, I'm going to dismiss the thought with a "maybe later".

To top it off, I have actual proof that higher education isn't necessary for success. Here is a list of a couple of people who didn't even get their bachelor's degree and, well, they ended up doing okay.

  • Bill Gates - Founder and former CEO of Microsoft
  • Steve Jobs - Co-founder and former CEO of Apple; also was a huge contributor to the success of Pixar Animation Studios
  • Mark Zuckerberg - Co-founder and CEO of Facebook
  • Matt Mullenweg - Lead developer at WordPress

And that's just to name a few. Clearly the key to success is not an expensive piece of paper but rather the ability to innovate and the dedication to see a great idea through to completion (and beyond). In some cases, additional education may be great tools to help you get your great idea. It's up to you to decide whether it's what's best for you. (And remember, you can always change your mind and go back to college later! :) )


Katie Hazard | Digital Artist, User Experience Designer
khazard@internlikearockstar.com | @katie_hazard
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