The following is a guest post from Margaret Mannix the Executive Editor of U.S. News & World Report’s best-selling higher education reference books, including Best Graduate Schools 2013 and Best Colleges 2012.
Given today’s economic turmoil, corporate belt-tightening, and abysmal unemployment rate, a second degree could mean a higher salary, a big career boost if you’re already out there in the working world, or an exciting new direction if you’re still floundering around with that part-time job at the mall. It’s a pricey proposition—you’re talking tuition and fees of $9,000 at public universities and more than $20,000 at private schools—but the payoff could be tremendous: People with master’s degrees earn more over their lifetimes than those with baccalaureate degrees.
For many of you 20-somethings, the decision might be a no-brainer. Coming out of grad school in your 20s or early 30s means you’ll have decades of high-earning power. And just think what that fatter paycheck will help with—rent, clothes, a car, and those student loan payments that seem to have no end. But—and this is a huge caveat—pulling in the big bucks in this day and age depends on your chosen field. The median salary for someone with a master’s in engineering is $107,600, according to a recent report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. That’s more than twice what someone with a master’s in English will earn.
Here are some things to think about if grad school is on your horizon (and you’ll find much more advice in our just-published Best Graduate Schools 2013 book!):
*Do your homework—and not just in choosing a program. Grill the career service people at all the schools you’re researching: Ask how many grads got jobs, what kind, and how long it took to get them. Ask about the long-term career path. Ask about the starting salaries for the jobs—and when you can expect a bump up in pay. Ask where all the good jobs are.
*For aspiring B-school grads, while the boom times aren’t back yet, there are definitely some bright spots. The tech sector is hiring more M.B.A.s, and international firms are seeking talented grads to help them take advantage of emerging markets like China.
*Prospects for newly minted engineers are excellent, with robust demand across the board—especially in electrical, biomedical, aerospace, computer, mechanical, and petroleum engineering, to name a few.
*Med school applicants will find that primary care practitioners are enjoying a seller’s market. Openings for nurse practitioners and physician assistants abound, too, and get this: One expert told U.S. News that more than 90 percent of people with a master’s in nursing nab a job within six months of graduating.
*Would-be J.D.’s might want to consider healthcare and intellectual property law, which are showing signs of rejuvenation thanks to recent legislation on healthcare, patents, and financial services.
Right about now, you’re probably crawling out from underneath a pile of library books, term papers, and exam notes, feeling like you can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. And you’re right, the school year is almost over, which means that if you’re a senior, you’ll be graduating soon. Congratulations!
While you should reward yourself for completing your degree program, don’t take a break for too long. There are many other details that need your attention now that school is winding down. To make it easier for you, we’ve put together a College Graduate checklist that will help make the transition in the “real world” a little bit easier.
5 Things Every College Grad Needs After Graduation
Job Search Tools
You might have already started your job search, but if not, now’s the time. For a successful job search, you’ll need a polished resume, 3-4 professional references, and a strong professional network. If you’ve never compiled a resume, you should be able to get some free guidance at your school’s career center. Professors, former employers, and student organization supervisors all make great references, so check in with those individuals now to see if they’ll speak on your behalf. As for networking, start with references, colleagues, coaches, and anyone else you’ve collaborated with in the past four years. Contact them about your job search, connect with them on LinkedIn, and pick their brain for any tips or job opportunities they know of.
If you’ve been living in the dorms the past four years, one of the first things you need to do before graduation is line up a place to live. Finding an apartment that fits your needs and price range can take a few weeks, so get started now. Make a list of what you want, what you don’t want, and start contacting apartment companies. Don’t forget that you’ll need money for a security deposit (anywhere from a month to two month’s rent), basic furniture (this is where futons come in handy) and to get the utilities (electricity, water, gas and cable) turned on in your name.
While you were in college, chances are that you were on your parent’s health insurance. The good news is that you can stay on you’re their plan for a few more years, until you’re 26, so if the internship or job you’re starting after graduation doesn’t offer a plan, you’re covered. If you do decide to switch insurance plans to what you’re employer is offering, make sure there are no gaps in your coverage, as that can currently affect your ability to receive treatment for pre-existing conditions.
A Work Wardrobe
Even if you luck out and land a job at a company with a relaxed dress code, you’ll still need a good suit or two for client meetings, corporate events, and business trips. Business clothes are expensive, so maximize your dollars by buying one or two suits in neutral colors, like black or gray, and variety of dress shirts in a different colors.
I know retirement probably seems very far away. But now is actually a crucial time in your retirement planning. Putting away a set amount each month, no matter how small, can have a huge impact on how much you’ll have when that golden day arrives. If you’re employer offers a 401(k) or similar plan, getting started should be pretty easy. If not, you can meet with a financial advisor and get started on your own.
I know the items on this checklist might seem overwhelming, but with the help of those who have gone before you (parents, an older sibling, an aunt or uncle) it’s all very doable, and the sooner you start, the easier your transition will be. Good luck!
Noël Rozny is Web Editor & Content Manager at myFootpath, a career and education resource for students of all ages. Visit myFootpath.com to find the bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or PhD program that’s right for you.