Grad School vs A Job

December 16, 2015

Yesterday was USC’s deadline to submit the Viterbi graduate school application to be considered for merit-based scholarships.

As you think about attending graduate school directly after undergrad or perhaps working first to get some experience, here are 3 pros and cons of each decision. This is based on my experience working in consulting before returning to grad school and anecdotes from peers.

The bottom line is frustratingly ambiguous – neither method is better than the other. I didn’t believe it when people told me that, but now that I’ve lived it, I agree. You have to understand your needs and do what works best for you. People reach the pinnacle both ways.

Going to Grad School Straight From Undergrad


  1. Academic freshness – you’re used to studying, classes, and still remember a lot of the knowledge you’ve gleaned over the years. You can dive deeper into your interest area.
  2. Get it done in one go – Once you finish your Masters (unless you come back for a PhD), you’re done with academics and can just focus on your career path, whatever that is. It’s a smooth, efficient transition with good job prospects.
  3. Less expensive – if you did your undergrad at USC, you could do the Progressive Degree Program Master’s that is only 1 year. If you didn’t, then you can still see if any scholarships from undergrad will be extended to a Master’s program.


  1. Overqualified – though this is not too likely given the increasing trend of higher education degrees, some engineering jobs do not require a Master’s or a PhD. If you get a higher degree without being sure what you want to do with it, you may end up being overqualified for entry-level jobs. It’s important to talk to industry recruiters and see what each company is like.
  2. Hard to tailor coursework – it can be hard to decide what elective is really worthwhile when you are unsure where you might be going or what will help add to your strengths.
  3. Extra year of school – An undergraduate education is exhausting. Adding tough Master’s classes right afterwards can make the time until you graduate feel interminable. It’s important that you keep the motivation you need to do well.


Going to Grad School after Working in Industry


  1. Company sponsorship – if you’re working in an industry similar to what you want your Master’s in, it’s possible your company will sponsor you to continue working full-time and take classes. This can help with the expense of a Master’s.
  2. More focused – after working in industry, it’s easier to evaluate coursework and to really take the most value out of each class. Often, professionals who already like their job return after realizing they are missing some knowledge that would be valuable to further their goals.
  3. More refreshed – Studying can be stressful, but it shouldn’t be a chore. If you’re feeling a little burnt out after 4 years of undergrad, taking a break can help you enjoy the academic process when you return.
  4. Cons
  5. Your study skills and knowledge are rusty. Industry rarely uses the theoretical concepts you learn in class and study skills are easy to forget so this takes some adjustment.
  6. Losing touch with industry – If you were in an industry you don’t want to be in long-term, this is less of an issue. However, if you return as a full-time student from a career in the industry you want to stay in, it’s important to stay in touch with the latest updates and keep in touch with your colleagues. Then, when you’re back on the job market, you are still relevant.
  7. Need good time management or conflict management skills – If you’re working full-time and return for a Master’s, it requires balancing your time well to be effective at work and successful in class, especially if you’re doing an online program. If you become a student full-time, your reduced budget means more roommates than you had previously so gotta bring back all those lessons learned from undergrad to deal with any issues!

Published on December 16th, 2015

Last updated on August 29th, 2017