Why Grad School Might Not Be Right For You

I want to preface my piece of mind by stating that there is, of course, a small section of aspiring professionals who are fully convinced of their career selection. Hence, the following may not apply to that group of individuals. For the greater share of students or young professionals, the path may not be so straightly paved.

From my college experiences both at New York University and the University of Florida, there is a question each student encounters and is expected to hold a substantial answer to: What are your plans after college? Very often, students resort to graduate school and at times do not have a legitimate reason. Continuously coming in contact with this question and seeing how others and I respond to it, I believe my two cents on the subject can bring value to current or incoming college students as well as young professionals.

There are two sources of pressure that are imposed on students. One is external and is typically coming from the university itself. General and college-specific advisors, professors and even school promotions such as flyers, brochures, etc. promote graduate school in perpetuity. Fair enough, universities function as businesses so why not promote their own product? The issue is that students who do not know exactly what they want to do fall into the mindset that graduate school will buy them time and perhaps give them the opportunity to find what they really want to pursue. However, graduate school can be expensive and is designed to give students specific specialization in a subsector of an industry. Meaning, graduate school gives students the tools to perform a certain role and if the student is unsure of wanting to perform that role in the first place, well it may not be the best investment. Graduate school is a stepping stone for professionals who want to take their craft to the next level. Not necessarily a discovery period as an undergraduate degree or work experience might provide.

Moreover, there is a culture that expects students to have everything, or mainly everything, figured out, which imposes pressure on students from their peers. In a sense, it can feel as if college is not being performed correctly if students do not have a plan in play and are executing accordingly. This pressure causes students to create plans for themselves, typically rigid ones at that. These plans can motivate students to concern themselves more with checking off requirements rather than extracting value from and reflecting on their experiences. Of course, there is nothing wrong with advancing in a plan. It becomes an issue the moment students do not allow themselves to wonder and exercise their genuine curiosity with subjects that may lie outside of their academic/professional plan or field of study. Therefore, if a course strikes your curiosity but does not fulfill any general college or specific major requirements, you should still take that course!

The lesson many students can take away is that youth comes with many confusions and uncertainties, which is neither a weakness or a strength, rather a state of being. Students and young professionals need to taste different industries or at least different subsections within an industry that interest them. There is nothing wrong with dabbling career interests so long as you bring as much value as possible wherever you go and hold yourself accountable to your actions. Self-awareness comes into play here because the moment you realize your true purpose or what exactly you are in the pursuit of — whether financial, social, professional or any other form of fulfillment — you can then reverse engineer what will bring you happiness.

If you just so happen to not truly know what it is you want to do or pursue professionally, then college can be a place of discovery as you are surrounded by vastly different interests and can easily explore new fields, but only if you allow yourself to have that experience. With pressure coming from your peers as much as the college staff and faculty, it takes self-awareness and confidence to pursue what fascinates you. Being practical, a few years of work experience, where you taste industries that appeal to you, can take you much further on your path to realizing your true professional goals than enrolling into graduate school right after college for the sake of buying more time. Once you know your craft, then perhaps graduate school may be relevant to excelling your position and achieving your personalized goals.