If you’ve ever considered grad school, whether just out of college or in the middle of your career, chances are, you’ve had advice coming at you from all directions. It’s a difficult decision to face, and you probably have your own fears, doubts, frustrations and questions to deal with, too. Here are some common myths about grad school and their counterpoint truths that I’ve discovered along my personal journey into higher education.

Myth 1: Grad school is good for anyone. It seems that grad school is becoming a popular stopping point for those with newly minted undergrad degrees, many of whom are having a difficult time finding their first job out of school. They loved college, so why not just get more of it and postpone the inevitable. Plus, grad school is a good choice for anyone who can get in, right? Sorry, but no. The truth is, grad school isn’t good for everyone. People who are in it for any reason other than expanding their knowledge and expertise on a subject will be sorely surprised to find that they aren’t as successful as they’d hoped. On that note, let’s look at some of the reasons many people go to grad school – other than to learn.

Myth 2: Grad school will get me more money. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Sadly, this way of thinking sets many people back in their careers. Grad school doesn’t guarantee anything – besides debt. I have had more than one recently graduated MBA student come to me and ask me why they can’t get a job netting at least 50-80K right out of school. They point to the research, grumble, and waste away for months, looking for a job that will pay what they’ve been promised will be delivered. Now, research does show that professionals with graduate degrees average higher salaries than their non-masters counterparts. But that research looks at professionals – with jobs. Let’s look at the next point for more on this.

Myth 3: Grad school will fix my resume. The job market’s not exactly what emerging workers were promised throughout college – yet. But if you think that getting a graduate degree right after college will help you get a job when you have no work experience, you are dead wrong. In fact, without experience, it will probably hurt your job search. (You have a decent shot with an MBA in certain markets or a master’s in top hiring fields like electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science or computer engineering.) The truth is, many employers require higher salary ranges for candidates with grad degrees. So, if a hiring manager can recruit someone with experience in the field and pay them less than a master’s candidate – they get someone who can hit the ground running and costs less. There’s positive ROI written all over this. Who would you hire? Ask any professional recruiter whether a graduate degree or two years of experience will make someone stand apart from the pack, and experience wins out pretty much every time. (Now, a graduate degree plus experience can be another story altogether.)

Myth 4: A master’s degree is a ticket to the top. Again, wrong. Many grad students think that once they land their first job, having a graduate degree in and of itself will put them first in line for a promotion or management position, no matter what. In most cases, this simply isn’t true. Now, an advanced degree doesn’t put you back where promotions are considered, but your relationship with your boss, your work ethic, and the product you produce is what will determine whether you get to the top. A master’s degree can help put you over the edge when everything else is in your favor, but it’s not enough to stand alone.

Myth 5: It’s all about the degree. Many people think that all they need from their master’s degree is the diploma and a passing grade. If you think this is true, run, quickly, in the opposite direction of your local higher education institution. You’ve bought (literally: think more student loans) into the lie that grad school is about anything but learning and building useful relationships. If you think coasting through a degree program, skimming through classes and sleeping your way though projects and assignments is the best way to approach grad school, then you deserve what you’re getting out of the deal – and that’s a ton of debt and most likely a long career struggle in sight. The university you attend is raking in the cash for your cool, inattentive self sitting in a chair, coasting through the program. Lucky them. The truth is, you can’t fool anyone if you’re not in it to learn – not your professors, not your peers, no one. Without passion and dedication, you won’t reap the true benefits of a graduate degree, and you’re going to have a heck of a time getting a job once you’ve cut and run, degree in hand, with no one to vouch for your work ethic or ideas.

Myth 6: It’s best to take the easy way out. Here’s what you hear about grad school a lot – get in, get out, get on with your life. Many opt for comps and high tail it out of there. Others take the coursework and spend the next few years putting off a thesis or project and finish one hastily to exit the program to meet an arbitrary deadline. That’s not good for anyone. In truth, ultimately, grad school should be all about getting the knowledge and experience you want out of it for the purpose of your own career. So many graduate students I know have taken the easy road out. But with your master’s degree, it’s true that you get out of it what you put in. End your graduate degree with a bang; harness the power of the relationships a university can offer and do research or a project that is well-thought-out and applies practically, and you’ll leave with something to be proud of – and something that can actually benefit your career.

Stay tuned for more on Grad School 101, and feel free to share your favorite grad school myths in the comments below.

Here’s the key to learning at any conference, meeting, training event you’ll ever attend: Ask questions.

The truth is, the one thing most of these learning opportunities have in common, regardless of field, industry, niche, topic or speaker is time for Q&A. The other thing is the opportunity to network. And, though training and learning opportunities are excellent, the other truth is, most people find some, if not all, of some learning experiences to be either disinteresting, boringly presented, or something they think they already have all the answers to anyway. They also don’t take advantage of the opportunity to question their colleagues or experts who may be sitting in the same room.

 

In fact, you can learn from anyone – if you can apply their knowledge, expertise or insight to you. The best way to do this is to ask questions during Q&A and tap into the expertise around you. Usually, everyone in the room or at your table can benefit from a question that’s well put and insightful. Here are a few great examples of excellent questions asked presenters at some meetings I attended today.

  • What’s the worst mistake people make when doing what you advise? This threw the speaker for a loop but provided a great outline of pitfalls to avoid that weren’t written into the presentation. The answer to this question was the biggest take home of the session.
  • How can this apply to young professionals? Who speaks at conferences? Experts, typically. People with 15 years of experience. Sometimes it’s hard to get them out of their perspective and delivering advice, ideas and approaches that anyone can use, not just someone at their level.
  • What are the ethical implications? Ethics are often left out of the conversation on many topics, and it’s always a lively conversation when people take up this topic.
  • How does the new media landscape change things? I asked this question, or a version of it, in almost every session I attended today. I was shocked that many people didn’t have an answer – or a very well-conceived one. This was very telling. But, almost every time I asked it, a series of similar questions would follow, illustrating the importance of the issue and the need for more conversation on it.

One reason these questions worked is that they generated further questions and they helped everyone in the audience learn – they’re not just self-oriented and case-specific. Well-thought out questions are also great because they can liven things up. They can put speakers outside their comfort zones and force them to think critically, beyond their Power Point slides and 3-step formulas.

But, the biggest value in asking questions is that in the simple process of forming questions to ask, you force yourself to digest the information and process it in a way that forms connections in our own mind. If you have any great conference questions you’ve heard or asked, feel free to leave them in the comments section. And, the next time you find yourself in a room full of people at a learning session, conference or training meeting, ask a question. Chances are, you’ll learn something – even if it’s not from the answer itself.

There’s a lot of talk lately on the topic of grad school. There’s outcry against itThere’s advocacy for itThere’s confusion on the part of students and professionals. Universities throw their two cents into the mix. There’s a lot of information and opinion flying around.

 

It’s great that people are talking frankly about this because it’s something students – and professionals, for that matter – need to consider fully. It’s a difficult challenge to figure out what to do after college. It’s also difficult to see the value of grad school if you’re doing fine in your career. 

 

Too many people leap into a master’s program out of frustration with their job search or fear of leaving the college world. On the other hand, many people pass it off as a waste of time or money without fully considering the benefits of an advanced degree. This series on the great grad school debate will uncover myths and truths about grad school, tips for grad school success, alternatives to grad school, and more.

 

As a full-time professional and full-time grad student for the past two years, these issues and questions have been something I have wrestled with a lot. I’ve had the opportunity to mentor interns and talk to them about the benefits and drawbacks of taking the grad-school-only path post undergrad. I’ve witnessed the struggles of my fellow grad students trying to break into the professional world with an advanced degree. I’ve listened to advice from my personal mentors on my own grad school journey. I’ve also seen grad school fulfill and inspire my peers and other professionals I admire.

 

So here it is. Get ready for an all holds-barred look at the great grad school debate – the pros, the cons, the issues, the opportunities, all of it – from the inside out. Welcome to Grad School 101.