“Should I go to grad school?” is a difficult question as it is, even without unusual occurrences like a global pandemic.
If you find it difficult to decide if this is the right time to pursue a postgraduate degree, here are some key factors to consider.
Safety – your #1 priority
Let’s face it, safety is the number one issue when contemplating doing just about anything amid a pandemic, and the decision to pursue a Masters degree is no exception. The question is, are there safe options to do it? Right now, schools have to be able to explain what they are doing to keep everyone safe and healthy. Check and assess your chosen school’s response to the pandemic and decide for yourself if it is good enough. If your school’s campus is open, does it have adequate safety measures?
Bear in mind that there is no such thing as zero risk, but a culture of respect for physical distancing and mask wearing can certainly reduce it. Also, it would be extremely helpful if everyone, including faculty, staff and students, is part of the effort.
Online education has gained popularity as a safe study option in recent months. While it may seem a tempting possibility, those who want to venture into virtual learning need to read the small print first. Not everyone is able to make the most of online courses, and the ability to concentrate and remain disciplined can certainly be an issue. Besides, networking and making friends is just not the same when face-to-face interaction is out of the equation.
What are your goals?
With or without a pandemic, having clear study and career goals is a top requirement. Why? Because it would be a bummer to end up in a programme only to discover later that you no longer have a passion for the subject. What is worse, you will probably have spent a lot of money and lost valuable time.
Tamina Clark, who thought hard before starting a Masters in International Journalism at City University London (UK), agrees: “Don’t go into postgraduate studies just as a way to avoid going out into the real world and doing adult things,” she told the Guardian. “Be certain what you want out of postgraduate study, and try to make an informed decision about where you’re going to do it.”
Take some time for reflection and think about what you really want to do. There are moments in life when you need to make informed decisions that will define your future. This is one of those moments.
See the opportunity
Yes, the economy is bad and the end of an unprecedented global pandemic seems a long way off. But let’s try to see the opportunity amid all this doom and gloom. You can use the time to improve your skills to become a hot pick for employers by the time the economy starts to recover. Education is a safe bet in times of crisis because it allows you to ride out the storm, while engaging in something useful for your future.
“Staying in school during a recession, or going back to school, often makes sense. Downturns are generally a terrible time to start a career. For those who do land a job, the cost is felt in lower starting wages, and research shows that a gap year can take years to make up. But that also makes a recession an excellent time for a person to invest in education. The opportunity cost, in the form of wages foregone by staying in school, is lower, which means the long-term returns are higher,” Canadian daily Globe and Mail said in an editorial.
Ok, no school. What then?
That’s a reasonable question. If you think that taking a gap year or deferring your enrolment is the best way to outsmart the coronavirus, think again. The job market is notoriously difficult, just ask those who have lost their jobs in recent months because of Covid-19. Internships are equally tough to land as companies look to cut costs during the crisis. Travel is complicated, too. The pandemic may be a reason to avoid certain activities, but wasting a year of your life doing nothing while your career is on hold is hardly a good response to any situation.
The current crisis triggers our primal instincts, compelling us to think short term and ask questions about the immediate future. But when it comes to education, looking at a longer horizon is the sensible thing to do. The recession will not last forever. If you enrol in a Masters programme now, you are very likely to graduate into a recovering economy hungry for qualified professionals. With a wider professional network, new skills, bigger confidence in your abilities and enthusiasm about your future career, you will be among the first to take advantage of the rebound.