Okay, let’s talk grad school. Around three million Americans enroll in a graduate program each year, which is about a sixth of the number of Americans who enroll as undergraduates each year. There are three main types of graduate programs: professional school, master’s programs and Ph.D. programs.

Many students choose to continue their studies in the form of professional school, such as medical or law school. These programs train students in a particular area of study, and unlike many other careers, a degree from one of these programs is required to start along the career path.

Master’s programs are generally one to two years of additional schooling and are available in almost any area imaginable, from education and social work, to folklore and casino management. These programs allow for not only a more in-depth knowledge of a particular subject area, but they also have a semi-professional aspect, which acts as an investment in future career opportunities.

A Ph.D. is generally the longest of the three graduate degrees, in terms of strict schooling. Most people who choose to pursue a Ph.D. are deeply enamored by a specific subject and want to add to the field with their own original research. Although many people think that those who pursue a Ph.D. do so only to teach at the collegiate level, this is not necessarily true. A Ph.D. demonstrates a deep knowledge of a specific subject, as well as dedication and commitment to a goal, which is invaluable to many careers. One particular benefit of this degree is that it is often funded, thereby lowering the overall cost of graduate education.

But none of this answers why people choose to continue in academia after already spending approximately 18 years in a school setting. The answer to this question is as diverse as the types of people who attend graduate school.

To begin, graduate school has intangible job benefits in the way that it extends the education one has received until that point. Specifically, it provides students with a number of opportunities to exercise and hone their writing skills, often culminating in a publishable research paper or thesis. Most graduate programs also place analytical thinking at the forefront of the learning process, inviting students to analyze data to form their own generalizations and thoughts and then learning from each other through discussion. These skills are highly valuable and desired in many job settings, thereby adding a layer of depth to one’s resume.

There are also many tangible benefits of a graduate degree. Those with graduate degrees have a better chance of being hired and are also posed to earn more money than those with only an undergraduate degree. Professional schools showcase the most extreme version of this; one simply cannot become a doctor or a lawyer without a M.D. or a J.D. Furthermore, there are numerous networking opportunities in graduate school—and we have all heard that “it’s not just what you know; it’s who you know.” Graduate school helps with both.

Graduate school is also one of the only places in which it is okay—nay, encouraged, to be a nerd. Not in the braces-and-glasses type of way (although glasses can be glamorous) but in the way you are completely engrossed in one specific subject. There are no general requirements or other distractions from the desired area of study. One will find that although there is discussions of drama within the department and “who’s-dating-who,” there will also be an inordinate amount of discussion about research in conversations. And the strange part is that it is a welcome part of the conversation. It is quite an experience to be completely surrounded by people who are interested in the same thing you are.

Students also have the ability to interact with professors on a much more intimate level. In undergrad, the relationship is fairly straightforward; professors delineate the knowledge and students consume it. In graduate school, the social distance between professors and students is much narrower. Often, both refer to each other on a first-name basis, and becoming something akin to friends is quite common. Essentially, professors become people to look up to, thereby making them infinitely more interesting.

And finally, let’s face it; many people simply do not feel ready to enter the job market directly out of undergrad. School is often the only thing one has ever known. School comes with long vacations, the ability to nap during the day and the acceptance of questionable eating and drinking habits. Graduate school also allows students to interact with people of a similar age range, thus promising an easily accessible friend group. Enrolling in graduate school provides a safe and encouraging environment to continue to consider multiple career paths, while still achieving something that will help towards any of those directions. Continuing one’s education is a relatively clear path—especially when compared to the murky swamps entering the real world.

Graduate programs are extremely rewarding in many aspects. They are surely not just a simple extension of undergrad, but they encompass many of the advantages of college, as well as preparations for a professional future.

Rebecca Childress is a master’s candidate in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Gradually Getting There appears every other Friday.

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