Are you mulling over the idea of attending graduate school? That's terrific, but hold your horses! Graduate school represents one of the biggest investments that you can make in yourself -- in terms of time, effort, and money. So it's important that you're clear in your motivations and purpose. I've listed some reasons why people attend grad school, but first take a moment to review the infographic below (click on thumbnail to see full size).
Become an Expert in a Field
If you want to become an expert in an area, look no further than graduate school. As a graduate student, you'll delve deep (and, sometimes, really deep) into your chosen field, developing a robust knowledge base. In many cases, you'll be required to produce a major paper – a thesis or dissertation – researching and presenting your views on a topic that contributes to your discipline's body of knowledge. By the end of your program, you'll become an expert and, in some cases, people will start referring to you as "Dr". With less than 15% of the US population holding a graduate degree, you'll be in esteemed company once you finish. Alluring, isn't it?
Better Opportunities and Pay
If you know more about something than your neighbor, you're probably going to end up with better opportunities and pay. It's that simple. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey, in the first quarter of 2015 advanced degree holders earned a median weekly income of $1,393 ($72,436 per year), approximately 23% more than bachelor's degrees holders ($1,134 per week; $58,968 per year). Employers appreciate the depth of knowledge, intellectual horsepower and dedication that's required to complete a graduate program. So if you're looking to stuff some greenbacks in your wallet a graduate degree can be a good way to go.
Pursue a Career in Academia
If you want to become a professor, you simply must attend grad school! Holding a graduate degree is the sine qua non for teaching in higher education. While community colleges sometimes only require a Master's degree, most universities require a doctorate (e.g., PhD). Even if you decide that you don't want to teach at the university level, a graduate degree is a powerful credential when applying to teaching positions in primary and secondary education. However, I can't overemphasize how tight the job market in academic is: in many disciplines, the number of PhD graduates every year far outstrips the number of available openings at universities (do your own homework). My advice is to pursue a PhD only if you truly love the subject and would be unhappy pursuing another career. If that's the case, then a PhD may be right for you.
Change Your Career Path
Don't like your career? A graduate degree can act as your handbrake in making a u-turn in your professional life. In most cases, you'll need to have taken at least some courses in the field you want to switch to, but sometimes you can change without any. It all depends on how closely related your undergraduate field was, and the strength of your graduate application. Remember, it's never too late to go back to school and turn your life around!
Wait Out A "Bad Economy"
A university can be your sanctuary during times of economic crisis. If you enroll during a recession, you'll avoid the brunt of the downturn and (hopefully) return to a healthier job market. However, don't think that you're alone in this thinking! It's not uncommon for the number of graduate school applications to jump by 15-30% during periods of recession, making it more competitive to get admitted.
Defer Student Loans
Higher education is expensive. Really expensive. Unless the United States goes the way of Europe and subsidizes its education system, five-digit tuition rates are here to stay. But there is one (small) consolation. If you incurred government student loans to pay for your undergraduate education, you can often "defer" them during graduate school. That means no payments of principal or interest while you're enrolled -- zilch! So, while it's not as exciting as loan forgiveness, you can put off worrying about making payments for a while.
Machiavelli once said that "the ends justify the means". We would also submit to you that the "means", or the process of getting to your goal, can be rewarding in itself. So if you thrive on the intellectual environment that characterizes academia, that may be all the reason you need to apply. More often than not, you'll be hard pressed to find another environment that pursues intellectual quality to the same degree as a university community.
Postpone the "Real World"
Seriously, who wants to work in a cubicle from 9-5? Unless you're in love with the prospect of a regimented life as a corporate drone, you've probably thought about other ways to make a living. This shouldn't be your primary reason for applying to grad school, but it's a legitimate factor in a lot of peoples' thinking. When asking yourself, "Should I go to grad school?", a shiny white ivory tower can be an appealing way to spend several years outside the corporate cubicle.