Discussion Thread

"Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

  • 1.  "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-24-2019 02:19 PM
    A common question that undergraduate students ask me is "How do I know whether I should go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"
    I wanted to ask people who have encountered this question in their lives: What did you think of when you were weighing your pros and cons? What did your path look like? Is there anything you would have done differently or wish you had known? I am hoping that by having a good discussion about people's different approaches, people weighing this question on their own can gain some insights as well as it would be great for those of us in positions of mentorship to know about how other people dealt with this.

    Rebecca Napolitano

  • 2.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-25-2019 08:25 AM
    Summary: A position with a great mentor is worth more than anything. Schooling is helpful, especially if you are focused on learning skills for the future.

    In my experience, a position in the field with an experienced mentor who is engaged in teaching you is worth way more than all the classes I ever took. Classes gave me a technical basis that I was inefficient and impotent with when I started working in the field, and it wasn't until I landed a position with a great mentor that I was to actually gain competency as an engineer in the work place.

    I will note that I think I would have benefited from taking a few particular masters courses in wood design and masonry design as a structural engineer. I was also a student for the tests, not the real world applications, and that hampered my ability to transition into the workforce as well. I think students who are focused on utilizing their schooling to develop skills to use in the workforce will benefit more from Masters classes than I would have, but I still think a mentor teaching you what to do or how to apply your knowledge in the real worth is the highest possible value you can get.

    The trick is finding that mentor. I felt lucky to to find one, but maybe if you're intentional in your interviews in discern if your future colleagues will be invested in teaching and developing you, it won't be too hard to find.

    Paul Chabot P.E., M.ASCE
    Structural & Forensic Engineer
    Grosse Pointe Woods MI

  • 3.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-25-2019 09:50 AM
    Most of the classes you take in grad school will not be applicable to your field of practice.  Upon receiving your Bachelor's you can become an EIT and start your 4 year apprenticeship to become a P.E.  I was not required to take steel design to earn my Bachelor's degree, but it is what I do... so I had to take it during a summer course... and why not take timber design while I was at it!  Due to peer pressure (the good kind) I only had 8 more classes to get my Masters.  It took 2 years to complete going part time, while working.  2 classes a session is not a huge work load.  Again, the classes I took were amazing and broadened my depth of civil engineering knowledge, but not particularly relevant to steel design.  Regardless, the Masters will put your resume in the pile with others who have earned it as well.  The value of this in a job hunt cannot be understated.

    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
    (401)231-4870 EXT 2207

  • 4.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-25-2019 10:45 AM
    I would agree with Paul's comments that a good mentor is invaluable. So is experience. One thing to consider is that ASCE is one of many organizations pushing for more stringent requirements for licensure in the "Raise the Bar" initiative as explained in the article Resolved: We Must Raise the Bar to Advance the Profession found on ASCE's website. The initiative includes a requirement for either a masters degree or some graduate level credit hours prior to becoming licensed. This could always be obtained after entering the profession and gaining practical experience in the field which always makes a formal education more applicable. Many companies offer educational reimbursement too. For these reasons, I would recommend graduate school after entering the profession and gaining experience.

    Michelle Haacke A.M.ASCE
    Project Manager

  • 5.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-25-2019 10:45 AM
    I can only speak from my personal experience as a current <g class="gr_ gr_43 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Punctuation multiReplace" id="43" data-gr-id="43">PhD</g> student, but my advice in undergrad was always to see what it took to get the kind of job I wanted. So I had to ask myself, would I be happy as an entry-level engineer? Did I need a Master's to progress to a Project Manager position? Would I be happy in that position? Would I be able to do cutting-edge designs and research on novel ideas without a <g class="gr_ gr_411 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Punctuation multiReplace" id="411" data-gr-id="411">PhD</g>? And that's how I arrived at the right solution for me, but that will differ for everyone. I have certainly heard of some individuals being over-qualified for the position they want, but I'm not sure how common that is. Hopefully, people with more industry experience can offer their insights.

    Vinicius Taguchi S.M.ASCE
    Minneapolis MN

  • 6.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-25-2019 10:21 PM
    ​Hi Rebecca,

    I'll offer a slightly different perspective. Having finished my undergraduate in 2011, I wanted to end up in industry and knew that the added education could be beneficial. I applied for Masters programs but ended up taking a Doctorate position at Oxford - partly for the engineering and partly for the cultural experience. It was an amazing experience and, aside, I'd recommend international study to anyone because there's a lot more to learn out there than just being cooped up in a lab or office!

    But the important thing is that I didn't really know what I wanted to study when I got there because I came straight from undergrad. I got plugged into a project when I arrived - and ultimately enjoyed it - but the academic landscape was tough for a while.

    Now I've been back in the US working for a consultant for two years and, sadly, I haven't used my doctorate. The interviewers were more interested in an internship I held than my 5 years overseas.

    Ultimately I wouldn't trade my experience at Oxford for anything. It was truly a remarkable experience. But if I had to do it again, I'd probably work for a couple years and then go back to school. It gives you a taste of the real world and informs you of the gaps in scientific knowledge that interest you. You can hit the ground running on a topic that will benefit both you and your company. In doing so, you carve out expertise in an area that is useful for your company, and you potentially provide an industry connection (read: funding) for the university where you study. Most of all, it helps to guarantee your employability following your studies.

    Good luck!

    Daniel Claff DPhil., EI, A.M.ASCE
    Engineer II
    New Jersey

  • 7.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-28-2019 08:24 AM
    I totally agree with Daniel here. After my undergraduate, I worked for 3 years then found out exactly what I loved doing and what I needed to learn to take my career to the next level. I then went to the Netherlands for my MSc and later on the U.S for my PhD. Six months before graduation, I already landed a dream job at one of the biggest firms in the world because of my previous work experience as well as my graduate studies.

    Tung Nguyen S.M.ASCE
    Pullman WA

  • 8.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-26-2019 09:40 AM
    I would recommend getting a job and proceeding to graduate school later. 

  • 9.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-26-2019 02:03 PM
    Hi Rebecca, 

    To go off of Vinicius points, and as a fellow student currently pursuing my Master's degree, I agree that it depends on the particular undergraduate student's goals. Are they financially able to pursue their Master's at the current time? Are they passionate about a specific field in CE? Are they interested in research? If they decided they would like to enter the job market now and pursue their Master's degree later, do they believe they will be able to/want to juggle both, if done while still working, or be able to/want to leave the job market to pursue the degree full time? 

    As an undergraduate, I initially decided I wanted to go directly into industry and did not want to pursue my Master's, but after answering those questions for myself, with the help of mentors, I realized that a 1.5 year full time Master's program was for me. Getting a Master's degree can also count as one year of experience (in most states) towards your PE, so when you graduate, you'll only need three more years of professional experience. Additionally, I found the extra summer(s) gained to be a great opportunity to take on more advanced internships and discover the exact job field I wanted to enter into.

    I ran into this question often with undergraduate CE students, as I worked in my university's Engineering Career Services Center for a few years. Ultimately, from my perspective, the decision to pursue a Master's degree now or later (if at all) should be a unique one for each student; there isn't necessarily a correct answer for all students - only more questions that they must answer to see what is right for them!

    Best of luck!

    Alyssa Ryan EIT, S.M.ASCE
    University of Massachusetts Amherst

  • 10.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-27-2019 08:37 PM
    Well, I think the answer to this question is unique and case-specific! There is no one answer fits all. Some of the sub-major fields required post-graduate degrees, and others required practical experience, yet a combination of both is needed usually. For me as a Geotechnical engineer, I believed that the graduate school would boost my career and will arm me with the tools and knowledge I need for the local industry, and it really did.

    Hamzah Beakawi A.M.ASCE
    King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minierals

  • 11.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-28-2019 08:26 AM
    The advice I was given, and believe worked for me, was to get an internship or entry level job position first.
    This way there is time to not only see if you enjoy this type of work or field and also gives you more insight into what the industry needs or is moving towards. It is then you would have more background in choosing a Master's or PhD program at all that will help and not hurt your career.

    Christopher Dzidek P.E., A.M.ASCE


  • 12.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-28-2019 10:07 AM
    Hi Rebecca,

    ​I graduated with my undergraduate degree and was able to land a job right away because at that point I had four internships and a co-op. After working for a few years I went back to get my masters while working full time. I feel very fortunate to have had the internships and co-ops before graduation and landing a job. Currently my industry (environmental remediation) typically only hires graduate level employees. It is very difficult for undergraduate students to land a job in it after undergraduate school.

    While I understand that some areas of civil engineering do not require a graduate degree right away, I feel our industry is going towards requiring graduate degrees for entry level positions as our work continues to become more complex.

    Kenneth Mika, PE M.ASCE


  • 13.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-29-2019 07:31 AM
    ​Another option is to work and continue your education. The US Government offers various paid positions, that require you to continue your education. Many of those positions are advertised on USAJOBS.gov

    Michael Avery P.E., M.ASCE
    Associate Division Administrator
    San Juan PR

  • 14.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-29-2019 09:44 AM
    ​I think this greatly depends on the level of work that you want to be doing. As a Civil Undergrad I had no intension of going to graduate school until I worked an internship for a large international company that I loved and found out that it would be required for me to gain an entry level position. For Structural Engineering this seems to be the case more and more frequently that work for larger companies will require a masters degree due to the courses - dynamics, earthquake engineering, finite element, advanced material topics, etc. - that you are exposed to through another few semesters of schooling. So sometimes the job you think you want will make the decision for you.

    In many cases, I think the professional experience right after school is equally as meaningful and that a masters degree is not necessary to get where you want to be in your career, and you can always decide to go back to school after working for a while. However, on that note, I believe there is a challenging mind set to get into the working world and making money to then switch and either add part time school on top of a job or shift to paying for school again without an income. Both starting back up and continuing straight through to grad school have their challenges. There's no right answer for everyone, but I think the first guiding question is figuring out whether the work you want to be doing will require a masters and if so whether you want to delay that or not.

    Taygra Longstaff EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Graduate Structural Engineer
    Boston MA
    (617) 349-9223

  • 15.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-30-2019 08:31 AM
    Hi Rebecca,

    At a quick glance I saw several responses saying to land a job first and then apply to grad school, which I agree with.  From personal experience, I landed a job right after I graduated, worked for about a year to get acclimated to working in a residential structural design firm where I only started with a basic knowledge of wood construction.  The job that I got was exactly what I was looking for and wanted to make sure that I was an asset to the company.

    After a year, I had gotten into Villanova University's online graduate program and took my time going through the requirements for graduation.  My company (like many others) has a reimbursement program for continuing education.  One thing that I think is different with my company is that the reimbursement is on a sliding scale based on the final grade you obtain in each class, which made me strive for the A whenever possible.  Also by waiting a year, I was able to tailor my courses to what would be most relevant to my industry and give me the best knowledge for my career.  Many of the courses that I took had also helped prepare me for the PE exam when I became eligible.  I had 2 courses left in my graduate program when I took the PE exam and had taken courses in all the major building materials (concrete, wood, steel, and masonry) which gave me knowledge of how to design each material as well as knowledge of code books used in the PE exam.

    Daniel Taylor P.E., M.ASCE
    Mulhern + Kulp
    Ambler PA
    (215)646-8001 EXT 155

  • 16.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 01-31-2019 10:54 AM
    Hi Rebecca,

    The short answer to your question is that it depends on your personal career path.  Personally, I wanted to get into sustainability but didn't see any opportunities while I was in undergrad. I applied to grad school, studied energy and climate, got some financial aid, and graduated with a better understanding of what I wanted to do. That's my take and I wouldn't have changed a thing. Funny thing is that my current company offers tuition reimbursement program so I could've gotten my M.S. paid for.  Now I'm planning on pursuing a degree in Public Policy while working for the City of LA. 

    Hope that helps and best of luck!

    Paul Lee P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineering Associate
    Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power
    Los Angeles CA

  • 17.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 02-01-2019 02:14 PM
    I went to graduate school (MSCE) and focused on structural engineering. My passion is land development and project management so my master's degree doesn't "help" my career. I'm still very glad that I got my MSCE but I'm only hired for being a PE.

    I think graduate school makes sense for a civil engineer IF your career field opportunities are enhanced by having an advanced degree.

    If you are the kind of person who knows EXACTLY what they want to do and what they will accomplish in five years then definitely go to graduate school after completing your BSCE. If you don't know exactly what you want to do or where you will be apply for a job in the area you are currently interested in pursuing.

    Most people have three or more careers in their lifetime. Don't look back on any decision as "bad" or "good" since they all take us forward. Find your passion and pursue it with all of your energy!

    Peyton Lingle P.E., M.ASCE
    Senior Civil Engineer
    Alpharetta GA

  • 18.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 02-02-2019 10:23 AM
    As others have mentioned, the answer to this question really depends on who is asking. Some things that I think should be considered as part of the decision making process:

    • How is the economy? If jobs are a little scarce, it might be a great time to pursue further education. If jobs abound, you might look for a position with a company that has a program for helping cover graduate school costs.
    • Are you hitting burn-out after finishing undergraduate studies? Perhaps now is a good time to take a break from school and spend a little time working.
    • How good are you at balancing multiple activities? Would you be able to handle taking classes while working?
    • What are your ultimate career goals? You might be able to look for people on linked in who are currently in your dream job. Take a look at their education and job history to get an idea for what might be a good path. I recommend looking at more than one profile.
    • What are your family/personal goals? Do you want to start a family soon? Is a post-graduate education necessary for your career goals? Would you want to complete a post-grad education before you have children? Alternatively, would it be better to get a job and pay down undergrad loans, maybe save up some money for a house (before you have children)?
    • If you take a job right after undergrad, would you want to go back to school full time later? (Or are you the type that will get used to a paycheck?)

    Kelly Farabee P.E., M.ASCE
    Savannah GA

  • 19.  RE: "Should I go to graduate school or apply for jobs?"

    Posted 02-03-2019 04:07 PM
    I went to grad school and every bit of grad school has been super-helpful at my consulting job. More so the interpersonal, troubleshooting and managerial skills that I gained as part of the research project than the actual content. However, I went to grad school with the intent of pursuing a potential academic career and changed plans in the course of grad school. 

    For someone who is certain they want to go into the industry, I would recommend pursuing a job over grad school. The industry is constantly evolving and material learned in school may or may not be applied directly at a job. You could always go back to school should you feel the need/desire to get a Masters. Plus, with the benefit that most companies offer tuition assistance, it might just be better to take advantage of that benefit instead of adding on to student loans beyond undergrad.

    Divya Kamath S.M.ASCE
    Detroit, MI