What Should I Do After My Master’s Degree?

Last Updated on October 4, 2021

Finishing a master’s degree is a big deal. Countless hours spent tackling reading lists, group projects, and thesis research have finally come to fruition.

On one hand, an end to tuition payments and assignments can be a big relief. On the other, figuring what to do after grad school can be daunting. Compared to navigating life after college, master’s students may be faced with more debt and responsibilities.

Whether starting a new and exciting role, embarking on the job hunt, or making plans for an alternative path, the transition may take time adjusting to.

To help you make the next step, check out these tips for what to do after grad school.

Utilize University Career Resources and Networking

Many graduate programs promote their job placement rates to attract future students and stay competitive in college rankings.

To help ensure master’s students have a plan for life after grad school, many universities and even some departments offer career resources and services. Some possible programs include career planning, interview and resume workshops, job fairs, and networking events with employers and alumni.

Generally, this support is catered to current students and free to access. Still, recent graduates may be able to access job lists and career fairs in some cases.

If you find your university’s career services to be limited or you’ve already graduated, you can reach out to your former professors for advice on entering the job market or pursuing a PhD.

Some universities may have official alumni groups or organizations to tap into. Connecting with alumni, professors, and classmates on LinkedIn is another way to broaden your network and find jobs in your desired field.





Entering the Workforce

A master’s degree can be an asset in the job market and for long-term career growth. In 2019, employed individuals with a master’s degree earn nearly 20% more than someone with a bachelor’s degree.

Still, landing an industry job that reflects your credentials immediately after graduate school can be difficult. Sometimes, factors like geographic location or an economic recession could pose challenges to gainful employment.

If you have limited work experience or changed careers after graduate school, it may be helpful to cast a wider net with job applications in your desired sector.

Not everyone’s career is a straightforward path. Finding a position that balances passion and professional development can be a good place to start.

Continuing Education

Depending on your career goals, a doctorate degree (PhD) could be a way to develop specialized knowledge and stand out from the pack. As of 2019, the number of Americans whose highest degree was a master’s degree reached 21 million compared to just 4.5 million for a PhD.

Besides working as a college professor, a PhD can be applicable for a variety of careers, such as researcher, scientist, psychologist, and high-level positions in government agencies.

Whereas completing a master’s degree generally takes one to three years, a PhD program can take between 5 to 6 years but may be longer.

Given this considerable time commitment, it is worth considering the return on education for different doctoral programs. If you receive a tuition waiver and stipend for a PhD, this calculation should instead measure the ratio of foregone earnings from studying to the income a doctorate will help you receive upon graduation.

PhD funding differs by academic discipline and institution. On the higher end, prestigious MIT offers 12-month stipends exceeding $40,000 for full-time teaching assistantships. In some cases, PhD students may only receive stipends during the academic semesters, such as Ohio State’s rate of $17,280 for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Recommended: Return on Education: How Graduate Degrees Impact Lifetime Earnings

Teach College Courses

After earning a master’s degree, there may be opportunities to stay involved in academia without pursuing a doctoral degree. Some graduates utilize their master’s credentials to teach college courses as a full-time or adjunct lecturer.

Certain graduate degrees, such as a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA), are considered terminal degrees—a designation for the highest degree in any academic discipline. Typically, terminal master’s degrees can be more easily translated to college teaching jobs since a Ph.D. is less common in the field.

Many community colleges only require their instructors to have a master’s degree. Usually, these positions are geared towards instruction more than research and writing. Thus, preference may be given to candidates with previous college teaching experience, such as graduate assistantships.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly half of faculty appointments are part-time lecturers. This comprises both adjunct positions and graduate assistants held by masters and doctoral students.

Pay for part-time lecturer positions varies between community colleges, four-year institutions, and graduate schools. On average, community college adjuncts earn $2,833 per section, whereas doctoral adjuncts make $4,371 per section.

In some cases, it may be possible to piece together enough sections to reach a full-time equivalent salary. Alternatively, taking on a class or two per semester could be a great resume builder or supplemental income stream on top of a full-time non-teaching job.

National Service

Are you interested in applying knowledge and skills from your master’s degree to make a difference? National service programs, such as the Peace Corps and Americorps, let you do just that.

Every year, approximately 75,000 Americorps members work hands-on with schools, nonprofits, community organizations, and government entities to address critical needs ranging from poverty reduction to natural disaster relief and youth empowerment.

Peace Corps operates in over 60 countries, with volunteers working on programs related to agriculture, environment, health, community and economic development, education, and youth development.

The bulk of Peace Corps assignments are for two-year durations, preceded by two or three months of language and cultural training. However, candidates with more experience and advanced degrees can apply to Peace Corps Response to serve in more specialized roles for 3-12 months.

Although both organizations refer to participants as volunteers, they do provide financial compensation and other benefits. Americorps provides a stipend and lump-sum education award structured according to the duration of service, which spans incrementally between 300 and 1,700 hours.

In the case of the Peace Corps, stipends are structured according to the host country’s cost of living. Other benefits include a $10,000 readjustment allowance, healthcare, federal student loan deferment, and non-competitive eligibility for federal jobs.

Taking Time to Travel

For many recent or soon-to-be master’s graduates, long-term recreational travel may not seem financially feasible for life after grad school. However, the transition from graduation to the workforce can be a good time to jet-set before professional obligations and life’s responsibilities begin adding up.

To make the most of your budget, you can take advantage of free accommodation via Couchsurfing or work part-time on farms around the world in exchange for room and board through WWOOF (worldwide opportunities on organic farms).

Recommended: How to Save for a Vacation: Creating a Travel Fund

Budgeting for Life After Grad School

Graduate students are no strangers to living on a shoestring budget. During the transition from student discounts and bargain hunting to full-time jobs and steady income, it can be easy to lose track of these money-conscious habits.

Maybe it’s not a bad idea to upgrade your diet from ramen noodles, but creating a budget can help keep you on track to save for things like retirement, a mortgage, and paying off student loans.

While graduating from law school comes with $118,159 in debt on average, a master’s degree averages out at $66,000 in debt. Deducting money straight away from each paycheck to cover these bills can help fool-proof your budget.

The Takeaway

Graduating with your Master’s is a huge accomplishment. Your post-degree path will likely vary depending on your career goals, industry, and personal interests. One thing is certain, creating a budget can help you handle your new income, existing debt, and other expenses.

If you are paying off student loans from your undergrad and grad degrees, you have options. Refinancing could give you more favorable loan terms with lower interest rates and flexible repayment plans.

There are some potential drawbacks to refinancing in certain cases. For instance, graduates refinancing federal student loans with a private lender will lose out on benefits like income-driven repayment and loan forgiveness.

SoFi makes it easy to get pre-qualified online for student loan refinancing in just a few minutes. There’s no fee to apply, and SoFi members can take advantage of free career coaching and financial guidance.

This post originally appeared on SoFi and has been republished with permission.



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