I have this theory…that learning theory can help you more than you think. Even though it might seem totally useless.
Theory is, after all, theoretical. Which means not real life. So why bother learning about some hypothetical rule that says something should happen, when you can just go and make things happen? Why not just do real life?
These were the questions that kept popping in my head when I decided to go to grad school and earn my master’s degree in journalism. The spring before I graduated from the University of Missouri (Mizzou), I was just finishing up my bachelor’s in journalism and had three internships under my belt, with everything I needed to start my career in PR. I was all set to go and start making money and slaying the game and everything else you’re supposed to do when you graduate.
And then, I got into the master’s program at Mizzou, which was a 1-year program (for students who had attended Mizzou’s J-school as an undergrad- the normal length was 2 years). I got a TA position, which meant my tuition would be waived. And I was already there, which meant I would have housing, familiar people around me, and a campus I already knew. It was a no-brainer…except it wasn’t. Because the big question was, was it worth it when PR people don’t need a master’s degree?
Yes and no.
Yes, for me.
But no, for a lot of people. For very valid reasons, starting with you don’t need it. And it’s an investment (even with things like financial aid and tuition waivers, you’re still spending your time, which could be spent at a full-time job). Grad school is hard. It’s time consuming. And you will do more reading and independent work than you ever thought you could. So it had better be worth it.
I took a good, hard look at myself and what’s important to me, and I knew that I would never forgive myself if I didn’t take the chance to grab that knowledge while it was there waiting for me.
So off to grad school I went. I put my career on hold to spend a year studying theory and doing research and going to every last football game I could before I headed out into real life. Sometimes it was inspiring and great, and sometimes it was frustrating and sucky. After all was said and done, it was the right move for me, and not just because I had an extended stay in College Town, U.S.A.
But is it right for everyone? Read my thoughts below this convincing pic of me looking really excited to start grad school, not comprehending the massive piles of reading I had ahead of me…
Reasons to go to grad school:
You want to keep learning more beyond what you got in undergrad.
This was one of the main reasons I continued in the master’s program. I wanted to expand on what I already knew, because even though you learn a ton in college, there’s still more. There’s always more. And the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, so I was itching to go beyond what a lot of my peers were doing and find out what else I don’t know. I’m a huge believer in lifelong learning, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do that through formal education, so I took that opportunity.
In grad school, you often don’t just learn the what. You learn more of the why. And theory is super frustrating at first, but when it clicks, you’re like whoaaaaa I suddenly know how the universe works! And then you go on to learning the next theory and realize you still know nothing.
You want to learn how to do research.
Even though I don’t need formal research skills to do PR, it’s already been an amazing tool to have for most of the projects I have to do- from searching for media contact information, to finding market trends from reputable sources like Nielsen and Pew. And a lot of people discover they enjoy research so much that they either pursue careers in market research firms, or continue in academia and get their PhDs. In my master’s program, I got to write a thesis, which means I picked a topic that interested me and conducted my own original research project from start to finish. Which is a pretty badass sentence to write, in my opinion, partly because I’m a huge nerd and partly because my Google search and database mining skills are now ON. POINT.
You need it to advance in your career.
Humor me for a second and let me be Captain Obvious, but if you need grad school, you should probably do grad school. Examples: Physician assistant, speech-language pathologist, social worker. Find out if that applies to you, before you apply to more school. Moving on…
You want to become a leader in your field.
Another good reason to get that extra education? It gives you credibility and a better foundation for eventually becoming a leader in your field. You have the expertise and the credentials to say you know what you’re talking about, and for that, you’ll be trusted with more leadership.
You’re changing your career path.
Oftentimes, people will go back to grad school to explore a new direction and pursue a different dream career. Grad school is usually a great way to specialize in something that you didn’t already have in your wheelhouse, so if you’re considering a career change and it calls for different education, grad school is a great way to go.
Reasons not to go to grad school:
Your career doesn’t need it.
A strong (and obvious) case against going to grad school: You don’t need it. Technically my career doesn’t need it- most journalism/PR/communications grads can just head on their merry way with their bachelor’s and live happily ever after. You don’t even really need an MBA to be a top executive. So it’s often not worth the investment, if you’re happy with where you’re going.
You don’t want to leave college.
I get it. Mizzou was a great time, and if I wasn’t sticking around for the master’s program I would’ve had a much harder time leaving. I consider it one of my greatest accomplishments that I squeezed an extra year of tailgating into my life. But that shouldn’t be the reason you go to grad school (or even choose a particular program, unless it’s also the right choice academically).
You’re just killing time.
Grad school is still an investment, even if you’re just taking a year or two to do it. Don’t think grad school is just a way to pass time while you’re thinking about what you want to do with your life, because it will still be hard. And busy. And exhausting AF. You won’t have time to think about anything other than your readings. Take a gap year instead.
The bottom line: The choice to go to grad school is a personal one, and depending on your goals, can be the best choice or not. I realize that sounds wishy-washy. Don’t @ me.
For the record, I’m very happy I did. Even when I was literally buried underneath my books.