Commencement is fast approaching. The end of my undergraduate career is coming, and I find myself faced with a critical decision. Just what exactly do I want to do after I graduate? Two paths present themselves. I could grab my diploma and bravely head out to join the working populace, or continue my education in graduate school. It took me a long time to make that decision, and in sharing these thoughts on the matter I hope can help others who are in the same situation.
Should I Work?
On the one hand, there's work. Oh, how nice it would be to have money coming in (and staying in!) for a change, instead of biannually watching my meager summer and part-time earnings be devoured by the academic chimera of tuition, books, and living expenses. I could finally begin to call myself "independent" and mean it; my efforts, not anyone else's would be putting food on the table, and I'd be able to use my academic training to try and make some impact in the real world.
However, since I'm not planning on starting my own business, my bachelor's degree is probably going to earn me a job where I'll be following directions instead of giving them. If I'm lucky enough to go somewhere where I love the work, that would be fine, but I know too many graduates who had to take whatever was available just to be employed for me to bank on using my degree in the workplace as soon as I finish school.
So my thoughts drifted to graduate school, and right away I saw that it addressed some of the inherent drawbacks in immediately joining the rank and file. Statistically, those with a higher degree (Master's, Ph.D., MBA, etc.) earn a higher salary and handle more responsibility. On the surface it seemed to me like a simple choice of instant gratification vs. delayed prosperity. But then some doubts crept into my mind, forcing me to really look at what direction I wanted my next several years to take.
Time and Money
When I receive my diploma, I will have been in school for sixteen consecutive years. In continuing on for a Ph.D., I will be signing on for five more years, making me 27 years old before I finish my education. I know people who plan to be married and start a family by the time they are 27. Couple those five years with the fact that unless I secure a scholarship or a lucrative teaching or research assistantship, one that will cover every aspect of my financial needs, I will be shelling out even more money and building up an even larger debt while working long hours towards that advanced degree.
The Deciding Factor
For the longest time, doubts held my final decision in check. Then I looked beyond the financial and temporal considerations, and found within myself the deciding factor: I wasn't ready to leave school yet. No, not because I wasn't mature enough or not ready for the challenges of life beyond college. I looked inside and found that I still wanted to know, wanted to learn, wanted to build on everything that my first four years had created inside me; the prospect of being surrounded by those who felt the same was exciting. Once I found and acknowledged that desire, everything else fell into place, and my decision was made. Graduate school? Bring it on.