Making the decision to pursue graduate school

More education opens more doors — when pursued strategically

In the current labour market, credential creep is a real problem. Suddenly, jobs once attainable with high school diplomas now require a master’s degree.

This inflation of job requirements pushes more students than ever before into undergraduate programs. It also encourages individuals to take on graduate degrees to stand out from the crowd.

While there are plenty of excellent reasons to attend graduate school, not everyone needs such a high level of education to be successful.

Before deciding, take the time to research your options.

Find out if the job you want requires a master’s degree or PhD and if so, identify which training is the best fit.

You can check out the breadth of options available by searching Canadian graduate programs on

For example, your honours degree in political studies qualifies you for a master’s in that field, but it could also prepare you for graduate programs focused on international development, peace and conflict studies, business and more.

You can focus more narrowly on your undergraduate major or take on advanced training in a related field.

Some students mistakenly believe more education automatically means more money. While there is evidence highly educated individuals earn high salaries, there is no guarantee.

In fact, federal government labour market statistics indicate undergraduates from programs like pharmacy and engineering have higher median earnings than the average graduate earner in many other fields.

In some individual areas of study a promising picture for graduate students emerges. For example, the median salary for those with a master’s in public health is $15,348 higher than those with only an undergraduate degree.

Of course, the possibility of third variables in this data exist. Those who are admitted into and complete graduate school might have qualities beyond their education allowing them to earn more money.

If your goal is a higher salary, weigh your options before investing in a graduate program. Seek employment statistics on program graduates and check out salary reports on the federal government’s “explore careers” tool.

As you decide if graduate school is right for you, it is also worth examining your motivations.

It is less than ideal to seek more schooling purely because you feel unprepared for the labour market or feel you do not know what you are doing with your career.

If you lack the experience to find work with your undergraduate degree, adding more education will simply make you simultaneously overqualified and under-experienced for many positions.

Instead, focus on getting the experience required for the positions you are interested in. Seek this experience instead of more education or take it on while you continue to study.

If you have no clue what you are doing with your life, sinking yourself further into academia will not necessarily clarify your future.

You may only be putting off the deadline for decision-making. Your indecision will likely remain when you have another degree under your belt unless you take steps to explore your career future.

Of course, grad school can be an amazing space to learn about yourself and build the skills required for work in a variety of industries.

The trick to success, though, is to plan ahead.

If you decide to keep studying a subject you are passionate about, take the time to reflect.

As you dig into the complexities of your master’s or PhD dissertation, consider how your research connects to your future goals.

What are the industrial or social applications of your research area?

Graduate school is stressful and demanding of your time. It can be easy to get lost in the problems of the present and forget to take a moment to consider what comes next, whether that is a job in industry or academia.

Look at job postings long before you graduate to determine if you are getting the right skills and experiences in your program and in your volunteering or part-time work.

Talk to others who are successful in your field and seek their advice. One avenue for U of M students and alumni is the Why Grad School? panel on Nov. 29 at 5:30 pm at the ARTlab.

Panelists with diverse graduate qualifications will discuss how their education impacted their career. You will also have the chance to chat with them after the event. You can register at

As employers seek a more educated and skilled workforce, a well-thought-out graduate education is one pathway for a rewarding career.