Should you study for a postgraduate degree or join the workforce?

A young professional in the US offers advice on choosing between postgraduate study and getting a job
August 19 2016

You’ve earned your bachelor’s degree and are probably at a crossroads wondering whether you should pursue postgraduate studies or enter the workforce.

Getting another qualification may lead to a wage premium, while work experience early on may equip you with skills that cannot be learned at university.

Of course, there are several factors to consider to determine which option will best fit your needs, or give you the maximum benefit in the long run. It is wise to look at the pros and cons on both sides so that you can make the best decision.

A few considerations to bear in mind include the size of your funds, the subject or topic that you might study, the skills you can acquire, the return on your investment, and your commitment to staying the course. First, ask yourself why you are choosing to pursue graduate studies or join the workforce.

Getting a master’s degree

A key reason to consider taking up graduate studies is the wage pay-off you are going to get after you are employed with this additional academic merit.

Wage premiums

According to Scholar Advisor, while wage premiums are given to those with higher education qualifications in some fields, there are still a number of employees with master’s degrees who earn just as much as those with bachelor’s degrees, and even less in some cases.

in 2013, an analysis made by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that occupations in the fields of business, finance and sales lead to the highest wage premiums for employees with a master’s degree. Moreover, the wage premium for securities, commodities and financial services sales agents is the highest, with almost a 90 per cent difference compared with the wage of their counterparts without a master’s degree.

Cost of study

While gaining a postgraduate degree may give you a bigger pay cheque, you also need to consider the additional costs of studying.

First, determine whether your funds are sufficient to cover all expenses for higher education studies. If your budget falls short and you are still adamant about getting that degree, you can apply for scholarships or financial aid.

Some universities also offer opportunities to be a teaching assistant to help lessen the financial burden. You may also consult with your employer to see if they can shoulder your tuition costs in part or in full, in exchange for your continued service to the company.

In-depth knowledge of the subject

Some postgraduate programmes are geared towards the development of an in-depth knowledge of the subject. In this case, assess whether studying will ultimately benefit your career, especially if your goal is higher pay.

Some employers may credit a specialisation with extra compensation, but others may not. You also need to consider how enthusiastic you feel about the specific course, since completing a master’s degree may be a challenge if the topic is not an area of special interest for you.

Joining the workforce

Financial reasons may explain why you are not keen on more study.

You may still be repaying previous student loans, or your budget may be insufficient for a master’s degree. One advantage to joining the workforce immediately is that you get earning power. It may not be as much money as you dreamed of, but it may be sufficient to support yourself.

Hands-on experience

Joining the workforce gives you an early start in climbing the corporate ladder. You begin to acquire professional skills and experience that might be beneficial to your career later on, and you’ll gain this sooner than those people spending two years or more getting a master’s degree.

You may also be offered career advancement opportunities that can compensate for the wage pay-off that employees with postgraduate degrees may receive. Another benefit of starting work is that you have time to create a professional network. You can meet the right people who can help you achieve your career goals.

You can also assess whether your career goals actually require further study to avoid investing in a master’s degree that may not be useful. As previously mentioned, some occupations will not mean extra compensation for an additional degree since they might prefer a solid professional background. In such cases, an early start in the workforce can give you a competitive edge, especially since not all skills can be acquired academically.

Professional certifications

If you think that more studying may be beneficial to your career advancement, you can look into professional certifications that tackle only the specific area of knowledge or skill that you want to strengthen. This is not as expensive as pursuing a postgraduate degree, but results in the enhanced skills you need.

In some cases, work experience actually gives you leverage if you are considering pursuing further education at a later date. If you are in the field of business, several years' work experience is an advantage since some MBA programmes highly value experience when considering applications to their postgraduate courses.

Whether you choose to study or get a job, either option can improve your professional character. It is only a matter of selecting what option will best suit your priorities, and what choice would be more cost-effective in the long run as you pursue your goals. 

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