Is Grad School now “expected”?

While almost all of our seniors have long since turned in their applications to college, there are some of our former students who are now college seniors who are looking at their final semester.  They are about to enter the workforce…or are they?

We’ve all heard that a bachelor’s degree simply isn’t “what it used to be.”  There are a number of reasons for that:

  • Simple numbers: more people are getting undergraduate educations than ever before.  Unless the job market is growing at the same rate that degrees are, this means there are more college graduates chasing the same number or – in a recession – fewer – jobs.
  • The greater numbers mean that potential employers are seeking greater differentiation from the bucketfuls of students who are coming to them with “Finance” or “Marketing” degrees.  Unfortunately, not enough students focus on getting thoughtful and relevant internships, useful study abroad programs, or even the most basic work experience.
  • The recession in the US economy has caused a slowdown in hiring, which means that new graduates aren’t just competing with their fellow classmates, but against those who may have graduated 1, 2, or even 3 years ahead of them.

Some students choose to tough it out – working in non-related fields in order to have a job to pay the bills or to stay employed.  Others don’t wait for a solution to be handed to them and choose to start a business.  But increasingly since 2008, many students are choosing more schooling.

It’s unexpected, isn’t it?  After four years of school, students are signing up for…more school!  Mind you – it’s also more expensive per credit hour with more challenging requirements.  Since they have not made alternate plans, the idea that “a Masters certainly can’t hurt,” has inspired tens of thousands to get one, but it is not always to their benefit.  Why?  Because we have the same related problems listed above:

  • Marketplaces adjust to supply and demand.  When there are a lot of oranges available for sale, prices go down and demand is sated.  When there are a lot of MBAs available on the job market, the degree no longer carries cachet, which leads employers to look at other factors – Was there an emphasis within the MBA which is distinctive (a particular one these days is “Business Intelligence” which marries nicely with the megatrend of big data)?  Or, was there a useful capstone or study abroad program in a relevant field?  Did the student just get a Masters right after undergrad (this means that there wasn’t the rich work experience which informs any real MBA program)?
  • The flatter worldwide job market increasingly means that you aren’t just competing within your country anymore.  You may be competing against candidates from other countries who share your qualifications.
  • Instead of improving their chances to be hired by increasing their qualifications, students who have not distinguished themselves now find themselves in far deeper debt than when they started, shiny undergraduate diploma in hand.

What can we do?  Well here at Get Smarter we’re always trying to prepare our students for life, not just for their next standardized test.  So here are three things to keep in mind as you prepare for undergraduate life:

1.    Do not expect a University to land you a job.  Parents increasingly put pressure on universities to deliver “jobs.”  And universities increasingly game their statistics by hiring new graduates internally.  Parents should not expect a university or college to provide a job for their young graduate.  A university can give you a degree – and hopefully teach you to think and learn at a high level so that you will be an asset to any firm (perhaps your own) – but it can’t control what the marketplace wants from possible employees (or can offer).

2.    Don’t let college “happen” to you.  Be the person your advisor actually knows by sight.  Attend those lectures and extra activities offered on campus.  Get involved with a group or two – and no, a fraternity or sorority is not solely the answer to all that, even though the time they demand would make you feel that way (fair disclosure: the author is a member of a business fraternity).

3.    Be as serious about landing internships and summer jobs as you are about your studies.  For those of us who are not college athletes who may possibly turn professional, this undergraduate life can set up the next decade of our pursuits.  ‘Nothing says that taking your future seriously has to exclude fun, but remember that when fun beckons, and serious things are not done, the mark of future success is upon those who accomplish those serious things while others temporize.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.  

 

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