In every twenty-something’s life comes a time when they’re posed with a question – “Should I go to grad school or not?” I’m no different. When I turned 24, I’d worked for close to 4 years full time and felt like I was ready for it. It turns out I was. I picked the right course, the right school and more importantly, the right job to create the career path that I wanted for myself. But what I wanted to write about today, is that it isn’t all attributed to grad school alone.
While it can be a great life experience, there are some things that you should consider before you go. These are factors that can impact your experience and your life after grad school, so I’d suggest not discounting them entirely. Please note that this is my personal viewpoint and entirely based on my experience alone. They’re also specific to studying abroad, in addition to some of the risks and uncertainties involved.
Consider your long-term career goals
This is one of the most important things to do before you go to grad school. For me, personally, it was my four years of work experience between undergrad and grad school that helped me understand what I really wanted to do. For those of you who are dead sure, that’s great. For those who aren’t, I’d suggest you gain relevant work experience. At the end of the day, grad school is expensive and you want to study something that will benefit your long-term career. If I’d gone earlier than I did, I’m pretty sure I would’ve applied to the wrong program. Working at an organization helped me understand my strengths, my areas of interest, peaked my curiosity and allowed me make an informed decision.
Consider your financial situation
Everyone knows that grad school, especially one that’s abroad, is an expensive affair. You’re not just paying for the course, you’re not even paying for your experience, you’re paying for the possibility of migrating and building a life there. Very few people come back right after grad school, and this is because they want to be able to gain work experience and see some return on their investment. Here are some things you can ask yourself. Is this doable right now for you financially? Do you have any savings? Do you need a loan and how long is it going to take you to pay it back? If someone else is paying for you, how stable is their financial situation? Is the city you’re going to extremely pricey? These things are important in making a decision like this. I went to grad school because I wasn’t loan dependent, and I saved extensively on living expenses by staying with family. This reduced some of my costs marginally.
Consider the likelihood of getting a work visa
The year I went to grad school in the US was the year Trump became president. Visa rules became extremely stringent. While I wasn’t directly implicated, I found that interviews actively asked about work permits. Even internship interviews. A lot of these things aren’t in our control. It didn’t matter that I had great scores or prior work experience or that I was hardworking. In countries like the US, where the political scenario is unpredictable, the chances you’ll get a visa is 50-50, or less. The H1B lottery system is fickle (here’s hoping the new administration changes it), and while many have been able to stay back, let’s not forget that MANY have had to return to India. Remember that if things don’t work out after grad school, coming back or finding an alternative could be a possible outcome and that’s not a bad one at all. There are plenty of companies in India that are growing rapidly across industries, and all it requires is a positive mindset and the ability to adapt to change.
Consider the trade-offs
We’ve always grown up with the American dream and the conditioning that everything in the west is just magically better. But it’s not always the case. Life there can be as hard, if not harder. There’s a lot that you have to do yourself with no help. Of course, it’s an incredible experience to step out of your comfort zone and there’s no denying that. But eventually most of us have the same routine irrespective of location – a job, a family, a circle of friends and a few things we do to stay sane. It can be challenging to stay away from home and your loved ones for a long time and not everyone can cope, so know that the life you’re investing in will have trade offs. You will have hard days there too and that’s ok. It’s a choice that you’ve made for yourself as part of your larger dream.
Consider the alternatives
If you don’t go to grad school, does that mean you can’t still achieve your life long ambition? No, absolutely not. Remember that a grad school degree in today’s world doesn’t always set you apart entirely. It gives you an edge, sure. But you need a lot more than that to compete. You need experience, you need to build skills that your peers and counterparts don’t possess. Let’s just say that grad school makes you competitive for a job, but it doesn’t help you keep the job. I always believe that grad school is only what you make of it. If you’re going, use every opportunity to get in front of your dream jobs and employers. Push your school to do more for you. Network, do informational interviews, meet everyone that’s relevant to the process.
If you decide not to go, that’s fine. I didn’t go to journalism school to write for Vogue India and I certainly didn’t go to marketing school to be the head of customer marketing at my company today. Most of my skills have involved unlearning and learning on the job and I wouldn’t discount that. I’ve often seen that there’s a lot of arrogance around going to grad school abroad, and I might’ve even been that way myself early on. But as I’ve evolved, I’m not sure I feel the same way anymore. What I’ve seen is that grad school or not, I’m surrounded by people who just go make things happen even if they don’t traditionally have the “checklist”, and that’s what is truly inspiring.
Grad school is a great experience, and if you have the means to do it and you really want to go, you should. But know why you’re going, what the likelihood of you staying back is, and what trade offs your making because those are big decisions. Initially it’s all exciting but over time these things do weigh on you. Just be aware that in an unpredictable world – especially in the middle of a pandemic, things may not always go smoothly and that’s the reality. Another thing to remember is not going doesn’t make anyone less deserving or qualified for a job or a role. You can do online certifications, be mentored, gain as much relevant work experience as you can and keep learning. Everyone has different priorities, so be sure to choose based on what’s important to you, not just because the world expects you to do it. Most importantly, remember that there are multiple ways to pursue your career ambitions and that grad school is just one of them.