If you’re in the process of wrapping up your bachelor’s degree or have recently graduated from an undergraduate program, you’ve likely considered what steps you want to take next in your career.
Should you jump right into a master’s or graduate certificate program to further your education, or is it better to take time off from your studies and gain work experience? The decision to continue your higher education is certainly personal, one with plenty of factors to consider.
To gain a better idea of which path you should take, we spoke with two graduate/international credentials analysts for the Office of Graduate Admission at USC — Moises Cortes and Astghik Tsatryan — who have also weighed those options themselves.
While Tsatryan took two years off after graduating from UC Berkeley before obtaining her Master of Science in Global Governance and Diplomacy from the University of Oxford, Cortes is currently enrolled in the Master of Library and Information Science program at San Jose State University after graduating from USC in 2017.
Below, they reveal their thoughts on taking time off before attending graduate school, how the time between degrees should be used and what you should ask yourself before making this significant decision.
Advantages of Waiting to Attend Grad School After Your Bachelor’s
Tsatryan is a firm believer in taking a break between obtaining your bachelor’s degree and enrolling in a master’s program.
“Taking some time off and experiencing the real world is very crucial in figuring out in which area your heart beats more warmly … I am a big promoter of taking some time off and utilizing that time towards self-discovery,” she told USC Online.
Tsatryan personally recommends doing an internship or a fellowship, traveling and discovering where your true passions lie instead of leaping into graduate school. That way, you can chase your master’s degree with a better sense of self and a deeper understanding of what fulfills you.
“Some questions to ask when considering going into a grad program right after undergraduate school are: Do I truly want to pursue this, and am not getting into this just for the sake of a degree? How will this degree align with my passion? Do I even know what my passion is?” Tsatryan advised.
You should also consider the practicality of attending graduate school, Cortes said. After all, many jobs don’t explicitly require a master’s degree.
“Is the degree necessary for your aspirations?” he suggested asking yourself. “Does the school you want to apply to have the program you want? Some schools may be world famous, but sometimes, a department may not have a specific focus. For example, let’s say you want to apply to a history program at a famous school, but it doesn’t have the region you want [to study]. You probably wouldn’t enjoy it.”
Benefits of Immediately Getting Your Master’s After Undergrad
There are advantages, however, to immediately enrolling in a graduate program. If you’re sure of your career path and what you want to accomplish with the degree (such as becoming a lawyer or doctor), then it makes sense to jump right in. That way, you’ll be able to complete your necessary schooling sooner and get a head start on your career trajectory.
Plus, if you don’t take a break between degrees, you have the advantage of staying in the “school mindset” of attending class, studying for exams and completing coursework. You won’t have to reorient yourself with the rhythm of being a student, which is a definite upside.
Also, waiting to go to grad school sometimes means waiting years — or not attending at all. Life can get in the way, and there is so much we can’t plan for when it comes to family responsibilities and career opportunities. If it’s important for you to get a master’s degree, then you may have a better chance of accomplishing that if you start right away.
Of course, on the flip side, certain master’s programs will require you to have some work experience to even be considered for admittance, so it could be a moot point. Look into what your program requests of applicants — some will expect two to six years of experience on the job, and that might make the decision for you.
“For example, if one wants to get into a public policy program, it is probably a good idea to work a little in government (state, local, etc.). This will add to an applicant’s application. However, if someone is sure they want to become a professor of history, well there really isn’t any way to get experience being a professor without the degree first. So, in this case, just go straight for the degree …. If you are set on a specific career goal, go for it. If not, I recommend not going to grad school just yet and figure out what you want to do,” Cortes explained.
There are other factors to consider, too. Money plays a crucial role: Perhaps you want to the take time to pay off your loans for your undergrad tuition before you take on graduate school costs.
Consider your lifestyle dreams as well: Do you want to start a family, and if so, when? While it’s certainly not impossible to juggle kids and a graduate program, it is another responsibility to balance.
What Path Should You Take?
To aid in your decision-making process, consider speaking with someone who went to graduate school right away and someone who put off their master’s degree for a few years. Hearing their personal experiences and their pros and cons will help you make a better-informed decision.
Again, it’s a very personal choice, and there is no “right one.” Consider all aspects that impact you — money, family planning, job opportunities, whether you need a break from school or long to continue your education — and know that no matter what you pick, you can’t go wrong. Obtaining your master’s degree is a huge accomplishment, whether you earn it at age 23 or age 63.