By Jonathan Fielding
What? More School? Haven’t you had enough already? I hope not, because more education is better in many ways.
Those with a graduate degree make significantly more money than those with only an undergraduate degree. On average, they also enjoy better health and even live longer.
But most importantly, in many fields, a graduate degree can give you an edge in getting a job you really like and one that is also fulfilling. Remember that most of you will spend the majority of your waking hours at work for several decades.
For most, however, graduate school is expensive. The financial burden of graduate education can increase debt and cause financial strain for years after graduation. In addition, there is the opportunity cost of spending more years of study instead of getting out into the working world to make money.
Here is my advice. If you know what you want to do and graduate school can help you get there, go for it, unless the graduate schools require or strongly advise prior work experience.
If you don’t feel a strong pull toward a particular type of job, consider waiting a bit until you have clarified your direction.
Here are a couple of thoughts from my own experience, having been in the working world for more than 40 years.
To start with, picture yourself at the end of your career, and ask yourself what type of work would make you feel proud of what you have accomplished.
From my experience in public health and medicine, a life serving others, individuals or groups of people can be very rewarding. As an example, in addition to my responsibilities as a UCLA professor, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health of which I have been a part for the last 15 years has reduced the chances that young children are exposed to lead poisoning, helped diminish the risk of new HIV infections, improved restaurant food safety by initiating the letter grading system, increased immunization rates in children and adults and increased community preparedness for the unthinkable ““ such as bioterrorism, chemical attack or a dirty bomb.
Making a difference in the lives of others can yield huge dividends both for those whose lives you improve as well as in personal satisfaction. But there are many paths to satisfaction.
What is most important is to look inside to find the best match for your aptitudes and the potential opportunities. Yes, renumeration can be a consideration, but don’t make it the only one.
One final suggestion is to get as much information as you can from those in the fields you are considering. It’s better to have a good sense of the pros and cons, including difficulties in finding work even with a graduate degree, by asking questions of those individuals at different stages of their working life.
Best of success in whatever field you choose.
Fielding is a distinguished professor of public health and pediatrics at the UCLA Schools of Public Health and Medicine.