I’m not in the business of churning out applicants to graduate school; I’m in the business of helping people enhance their happiness. While I’m talented at many things (and I have a sometimes disconcerting number of different interests), one of the things I am most talented at is getting people into graduate school. So if going to graduate school is going to make you happy, I’m here to help you get there. For those of you who are wondering if going to graduate school will contribute to your happiness, and you’re actually worried that it might take away from your happiness, this post is for you.
Reason #1: You don’t think the debt is worth it.
No matter how many financial experts say that student loan debt is “good debt,” it’s still debt. If the amount of debt that you’re going to have to take on for your graduate degree doesn’t seem worth what you will get out of it (i.e. increased earning power, increased access to opportunities, expanded network, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, etc.) think twice before signing on the dotted line. I specialize in helping my clients get as much financial aid as possible for their graduate study. In 2013-2014, my teeny cohort of just 52 clients (that’s all clients for all services) earned over $1.2 million in fellowships for policy and business school. Those of you who are familiar with how scarce funding can be for professional degrees know how big of a deal this is. Even so, the vast amount of fellowship funding goes to 20% of my clients, and if you are in the 80% that receive little to no fellowship funding, it’s definitely worth taking time to reflect, run the numbers, and make a clear-headed decision about whether or not grad school is right for you.
Reason #2: You didn’t get into your dream school—and your second choice is a far runner-up.
While I help people get into all of the top policy and business schools, Harvard Kennedy School is by far the #1 school I work on with my clients. Consequently, it’s also the biggest single source of funding for my clients. Among the top policy schools, HKS has a rare combination of diverse academic specialities with an abundance of on-campus entrepreneurial resources. HKS is a place where you can be both a hardcore policy wonk and an ambitious social entrepreneur without even having to cross-register (though that’s a great option that I recommend folks take advantage of). Very few of my clients who get into HKS decide not to go. Those who choose other schools nearly always do it because they got a full scholarship at Princeton WWS and do not plan on forging careers in social enterprise, thus making WWS the far better choice since the “entrepreneur’s heaven” aspects of HKS aren’t important to them. When one of my scrappy entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs-to-be gets rejected or waitlisted at HKS, they often decide not to accept their places at other excellent top policy schools like SAIS or SIPA—unless those places offer generous financial aid packages. There are a multitude of reasons why, but I imagine it’s because these particular people feel particularly attached to HKS’ course offerings, research centers, and initiatives. It turns out those people weren’t really applying to policy school; they were applying to “social entrepreneur school.” This means that these clients probably should have applied to a blend of policy, business schools, and joint degree programs rather than just policy schools (and often, many of them have done just that and happily head off to business school). For those scrappy treps that find themselves with admissions to lots of great schools but not ones they feel will equip them with the tools and network to start world-changing organizations and initiatives, they decide to shelve grad school for a year or two and continue focusing on their entrepreneurial projects and building up their profile for a year of reapplying.
Reason #3: You already love your job and your life.
Don’t think that you’re alone; most of my classmates in business and policy school were not there because we loved our current jobs (or job prospects) and we had awesome lives. Many of my classmates were looking to change industries, job functions, countries, and/or area specialities. We wanted a fresh start. For those of you who already have a well-paying job where you are constantly learning, feel appreciated, are making an impact, and have ample opportunities to advance, you may not need graduate school. If you have a circle of diverse, smart friends that push you to be your best, a thriving love life, and a city you love, you don’t have to uproot all that for graduate school. I’m not saying that going to a top graduate school is going to make you rich, powerful, philanthropic, and happy—but it can help you get there. If you’re looking to change careers, unlock access to new opportunities and networks, forge lifelong friendships, maybe even meet your future mate, spending one or two years in a top policy and/or business program might be just what you need. The decision to go to graduate school should not be taken lightly. Everyone you talk with will have a different opinion and their own flavor of advice of what you should do with your life. Since I’m in the business of enhancing happiness, I suggest that you focus on moving toward whatever path you think and feel will make you the happiest.