During my undergraduate years, my goal was simply to finish my bachelor’s degree. It was not an easy degree (chemical engineering), and working full time made it even more challenging. I had a good friend that I went to college with, and we both worked graveyard shifts in the medical field. Around exam time, we slept between classes in our cars! Somehow, we made it through, and my friend vowed never to go back to school again. I could not blame him.
Although this “initiation” into the engineering field was tough, I still began to contemplate going to graduate school in the year 2000. Neither of my parents went to college (although most of my dad’s side of the family did), and they always felt like they were limited in their job options due to their lack of degree. Learning from them, I did not want to go through the same struggles. Therefore, I applied for graduate school during the year 2000 and began my Masters in Chemical Engineering in 2001. There are many reasons for and against college and graduate school, and this depends upon your individual situation. I list some of these reasons in the following paragraphs.
Why go to college or graduate school?
There are many reasons to go to college or grad school, and some of these include:
1. The credentials that come with completing the degree.
2. It may open doors to certain positions within a company, or provide a competitive “edge” compared with someone that does not have a degree.
3. Depending upon your field and company, it may provide a salary increase.
4. It will help to develop your professional skills.
5. You will be in a program with other smart and interesting people who will end up being your colleagues.
A college or graduate degree often makes it much easier to advance within a company. It may open up a plethora of professional opportunities that might not be easily obtainable otherwise. However, do not just simply believe what I am saying — do some research into the careers and/or companies that you are interested in. Investigate the opportunities and salaries that are available to you with and without a college or a graduate degree. If you are interested in academia, then going to graduate school is a “no brainer”. If you are interested in industry, you should do a significant amount of research to make sure that this is the right decision for you. You should also remember that the number of jobs that you can apply to will decrease with the number of degrees that you have (especially without the required job experience). In many companies and industries, job experience is at least as important as a graduate degree — if not more important. Regardless of whether you want to be in academia or industry, the market is very competitive, and you have to realize that obtaining a degree alone does not automatically entitle you to a great job and career.
Why you should NOT go to college or grad school
The worst reason to go to college or graduate school is because you do not know what to do. Some of the reasons not to go to college or graduate school include:
1. You cannot find a job.
2. You do not know what to do.
3. There are high costs associated with college & graduate school.
4. For many programs, the rate of success may be uncertain.
5. The work can be difficult.
6. The social environment in college may not be what you have envisioned.
7. Especially for PhD, medical, or law programs, the work takes years, and there may be an effect on your family and perhaps other areas of your life.
8. Depending upon how much you take on, you may feel isolated due to the solitary nature of your work. It is not uncommon to lose friendships due to the limited amount of time that you have available for socializing.
9. Every year spent in college may mean another year that you are without job experience or savings.
10. You may have to put off having children until you are finished.
I am personally a huge advocate of going to college. No matter what your path will be in life, it will most likely open doors that would not otherwise open. With that being said, if you are interested in a skilled trade, this is a great option because it can also lead to a steady career with many business opportunities. We have many friends who are successful tradesmen and some who also have built successful businesses around their trades.
Before going to a graduate program, I recommend working in your field of choice to make sure that it will be worth the additional school, time, and money investment. I enjoyed working in my field, and I realized that additional schooling could open up additional opportunities. Therefore, I decide to go back to school. However, graduate school is not for everyone. Depending upon the program, it may not lead to additional opportunities or pay increases. In PhD programs, approximately 50% of students drop out, even after investing many years in their program. In addition, you may have to consider the reality that your friends may have houses and children many years before you are able to and/or may be more financially secure if you go to college for an extended amount of time.
The other topic that I have not touched upon is entrepreneurship. I believe entrepreneurship has its own learning curve that cannot be learned in school, and it has many of the same challenges and obstacles. Keep in mind that anything worth achieving will require significant time and focus. Find your passion, logically plan your decisions, work hard, and be persistent!