In recent years, many students have opted to go to graduate school directly after they completed their undergraduate education. For some, that was a decision made after research about the career they wanted, but for many, it was a default position. They didn’t know what they wanted to do—or they couldn’t find a job—so they went to graduate school.
Graduate school can be your ticket to the job of your dreams, but it can also be a waste of time and money. Before you start applying, be sure that you know what you want to do, where you want to do it, and how a particular graduate program will help you reach your goals.
Many graduate programs will have a page on their program website that describes their alumni, often including contact information and details about their current positions. If such information is available, look closely at the jobs those alumni describe and make sure that those jobs are appealing to you. If possible, reach out to alumni and ask about their job search experiences and their current positions. Many programs will also have information about their placement rates. For example, the master’s program in technical communication at North Carolina State University currently has a placement rate of more than 90%—that means that 90% of the graduates have found work within their field upon graduation. A high placement rate is a good indication that a field is in demand and that the program you’re considering has a good reputation among employers.
You can also use other resources to learn about the job outlook. Most professional fields will have some type of national association and various publications that can give you information about the viability and availability of jobs in that field. Check with them about job opportunities, expectations, salaries, growth opportunities, and so forth. You can also use the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook to learn more about the job outlook for your intended field.
Finally, many people (and I’m one of them) think it is a good idea to work for a year or two after you complete your undergraduate degree before going to graduate school. Many programs, especially MBA programs, actually require two or more years of work experience for all applicants. Time spent in the workplace can help you sharpen your focus, learn what you like and dislike, and help you understand the value of a graduate degree in the field that interests you.