Beyond the bachelor’s

The pros and cons of graduate school

  • 3 min to read
Master's degree: aye or nay

Graduate school is one of the many options students can look into after their undergraduate programs are completed. Some students are opting to return to school while the job market remains limited.

What comes next? For some graduating with their bachelor’s degree, pursuing their careers, traveling or starting a family can become primary goals. For others, an undergraduate degree gives them leverage to continue their education. Considering applying for graduate school but unsure of how the experience will be? University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa graduate student Leah Wasil shares her insights on the pros and cons of graduate school. 

Getting an extra push 

Wasil is a Ph.D candidate studying Japanese archaeology and has two master’s degrees beneath her belt. Although she has continued her academic endeavors, she initially did not imagine that she would be where she is today. 

“I didn’t want to go to grad school at all. I am a first generation college student so getting a bachelor’s was already above and beyond anyone in my family,” Wasil said.  

What influenced Wasil’s decision to apply for graduate school was her undergraduate advisor. 

“He hounded me relentlessly for, like, two months before I finally agreed. I said ‘If you stop bothering me I will apply to one school.’ I didn’t want to do more than one. He agreed and he told me which one to apply for. I got in,” Wasil said. “Once I got in and really, really started digesting the research and ideology and the things going on, I really enjoyed it and finally decided that I wanted a Ph.D.” 

Travel and colorful experiences 

Continuing one’s academic journey is a notable feat and creates opportunity for intellectual development. According to Wasil, graduate students can apply for grants to receive financial support for their academic endeavors, including travel for research purposes and conferences. 

“I have traveled so much in graduate school without me having to pay for it. For my research, you apply for grants and you get paid,” Wasil said. “I’ve been to Japan five times and four out of five times were paid for.”

Wasil also mentions that graduate school students have the opportunity to broaden their networks and personal philosophies by being exposed to different people and thought processes. 

“You get to meet some of the most fascinating people and become really good friends with them,” Wasil said. “Not only that but I feel like it has made me a more well-rounded person; I used to have very strong stances on things. I still have strong stances but I think I know better how to situate myself intellectually and to listen to people and know where people are coming from.” 

The challenges 

Although it offers chances for intellectual and personal development, graduate school also presents challenges that must be considered. 

An obvious obstacle is debt. Wasil mentioned that although she received scholarships to help pay for her two master’s degrees, she still had to take out loans to support her schooling. Another possible disadvantage would be the time and dedication needed to complete a graduate degree. 

“It consumes everything in your life. Yeah, I go out with people but it’s not the same. I come and live in my office or I go home and I do work,” Wasil said. “It’s hard to know how to balance your life because you have all these expectations placed on yourself.”

These expectations can lead to what Wasil describes as “imposter syndrome.” According to Merriam-Webster, imposter syndrome, or imposter phenomenon, is “commonly understood as a false and sometimes crippling belief that one’s successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill.”

An article written by Kirsten Weir for the American Psychological Association notes that those who experience this phenomenon often come from families that place an emphasis on achievement. 

“The higher you go the worse it gets, especially for women.  But you have to remember that you are not competing against other people. You’re competing against your own past: are you doing better than what you were?” Wasil said. “It’s so hard to do this because there are so many amazing people and you have to realize that you are also an amazing person. Out of all the people who applied [to a university], they offered it to you which means they think you are worthy of being here.”

From a master to a doctor 

Wasil offers some advice for those considering applying for graduate school. She mentions that one should consider their options and possible outcomes, like going into debt. 

“You are making the jump from undergraduate to master’s - it is the biggest jump. Master’s to Ph.D is still a step up but it’s a little step up,” Wasil said. “What do you want to do? What do you want to put out into the world, and what do you want to get back in the world?  Do you want to go into debt doing something that makes you happy? Do what makes you happy. It’s not permanent, if you don’t like it you can drop out; it’s okay.”  

She also said cold emailing professors, while she does not enjoy it, will allow professors to know about your interest and may open doors for further study.