Can't find a suitable job, should he get an MS?

Back to Grad School?

by Dollar Stretcher Contributors

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Back to Grad School?

I graduated with a BS in hospitality management over a year ago. I can't find work in my field, so I've been working retail for a little above minimum wage. Naturally I'm disappointed. Now I'm wondering if I should go back to get a master's in something more marketable. I'd have to borrow the money, which would add to my student loans. But at least I wouldn't have to make payments while I was in school. Any advice?

Visit a Career Counselor First

As a college professor, I see this situation frequently: a student who graduated one or two years prior, unable to find a satisfying job, coming to ask about going to graduate school. Obviously I cannot tell these students what to do, but I do make them aware of two things.

First, graduate school can be very expensive, into the tens of thousands of dollars. Unless you have the ability to pay for graduate school out of pocket, it is very likely that you will take out student loans. This can mean devoting 10-25 percent, if not more, of your future monthly paychecks to student loan payments. You need to consider very carefully what you are willing to sacrifice in the future in order to go back to school today.

Second, there is no guarantee that additional education will make you a more attractive job candidate. In fact, unless you go into a field that requires a master's degree for most entry-level positions, it is possible that a graduate degree may make you overqualified for many of the jobs you might want. That seems counterintuitive, as Americans tend believe that more education automatically generates greater job prospects; but, employers desire specific, transferable job skills, and additional years in the classroom may not teach these skills.

The advice I give to Derek is to take some of the money he would spend on graduate school and visit a good career counselor. The counselor can help him find ways to improve upon and expand his skill set and teach him how to best market his combination of skills and education. After a few years, if Derek is still not in a satisfying job situation, he can reassess the graduate school option. After all, the university isn't going anywhere.
Prof. C in OK

Related: DIY Career Counseling

Deferring Payments Is Not a Good Reason to Go Back to School

Please don't! This economy will not be kind unless you are wise with debt. Deferring loan payments is never a good reason to go back to school. If you do decide on more debt, please ask about and research placement rates. Colleges and universities have become more sales driven and will often "sell" a product because people want the product, not because they can help place graduates in jobs. This is not to say that they aren't training people. They just don't have the push to place students and leave that to the students.
Julie in Spokane

Head to a Community College

I have two daughters who have spent a lot of time and money on college. They have said many times that they wished their high school counselors would have steered them toward a community college instead of touting the big name expensive colleges. They noted that friends who had gone to two years of community or junior college and learned practical trades, such as x-ray technician or electrician, were earning more money than they were. These friends also got done with college sooner than they did and didn't have the high levels of debt from student loans. Therefore, I would suggest that you forget the master's degree. Go to your local community college while you continue to work at your job and learn a trade that will pay well and that will be something you can enjoy doing. There are a lot of interesting fields you could go into like massage therapy and many jobs in the medical field.

Related: Community College Advantages

Don't Be Afraid to Learn New Skills

As a former college academic advisor, I would caution against grad school unless it was in a lucrative field (i.e. medicine or law). If you think you would be pursuing an MBA or master's in public administration, wait until you can pay as you go. Also, avoid the for-profit colleges either online or brick and mortar.

Yes, it is disappointing what recent grads are walking into in this economy. Remember that your generation will have seven to nine careers in a lifetime. So what are your other interests or hobbies? Find free online courses (just use a search engine and type in "free online courses") or ways to volunteer to build up those skills and keep records of these efforts.

Years ago, I became a certified personal trainer to help myself lose weight. Now I have that credential to help supplement my day job that was reduced to part time. My goal is full time work again, but at least I have another skill I can use in the meantime.

Build your toolbox and don't be afraid to learn new skills.

Move Where the Jobs Are

If you graduated from an accredited hospitality management program, I think you'd do better to move to an area (resort area or a conference destination city) where you'd stand a better chance of getting a job in your field. In the meantime, take a job doing almost anything that can make you look stronger in your field. Work part time at a front desk, work as a hostess/host, or tend bar. Those will boost your income and give you networking potential in your field. Don't overlook jobs in places like hospitals and nursing homes. They may not be glamorous or pay as well, but they'll look better on your resume than a retail sales job.
JD in St. Louis

Research High Demand Jobs

I definitely would not go out for a master's degree! 46% of all college enrollees do not graduate, and if you don't get the degree, you are still on the hook to pay back the loan. Often, having a master's degree and zero experience, especially in fields where there's low job demand, is just professional suicide.

What I would do is investigate a technical school, such as Texas State Technical College, which is state run and fully accredited. (I would be very wary of the commercial schools that advertise on TV with small wording that their "credits are unlikely to transfer.") They have all kinds of courses that are in high demand, ranging from recreational vehicle repair to laser technology. They also teach computerized auto repair and skills needed for high tech factory work. Do not be fooled that because it is a "technical" college the courses are not difficult. They are very challenging. You'd better come ready to study hard. However, chances are you'll have a job when you graduate.

Career fields that are in high demand are in the trades. Everyone needs a plumber, and those guys make good money. Construction trades (electrician or carpenter) are begging for guys to fill the work boots of the generation now retiring. Ask around as to how you can get into an apprenticeship or training program. Once you are established, you can either work for someone else or open your own plumbing or electrical business and be your own boss.

Finally, health careers are booming as Baby Boomers approach their golden years. Becoming a nurse, physical therapist or radiology technician (to name but just a few health care jobs) will ensure you have plenty of places to work. Hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and doctor's offices are in every city. A great advantage with health careers is that many times, you can get a hospital chain to pay your tuition by simply agreeing that upon graduation you will work for them for a specified number of years. That's a lot better than taking out a loan!

Time and Hard Work Build Careers

You have only been out of school for a year. That's not long enough, especially in this economy, to give up on a career. Additionally, taking on more debt and getting more credentials without any experience isn't going to make you more employable. What you should be doing is looking for any entry level position in your field, such as hotel desk clerk. Put in some time, be reliable and hard-working, and let it be known that you're looking to advance. When you have a couple years under your belt, apply for positions at the next level up. People always think the college degree lands a career right away. It doesn't! It just greases the wheels. A career is built over time and hard work, degree or not!

Student loan calculator iconCalculator: Are you taking on too much student loan debt?

Take Time to Build Resume

You are one of the many graduates who have struggled to find work in your field of study. As a former career counselor for a culinary school, I would encourage you to wait on grad school and huge debt. Instead, expand your search. The skills you learned may be marketable in hospitals, colleges and universities, and schools. They all serve many customers and are often in search of experienced staff. While it may not be the job of your dreams, it would help build your resume. I currently manage a school cafeteria. While I don't make as much money as I would in a top end hotel, I have holidays, nights, and weekends to enjoy with my family!

Grad school will run you thousands of dollars, and if you are not sure what you want to study, you would be sinking into a whole lot of debt without a clear outcome.

Related: Writing a Job-Winning Resume

Things to Consider Before Going Back to School

I hear this sort of thing all the time. People can't find a job in their field, so they figure they picked the wrong field. What they end up is in even more debt, still with no guarantee of finding a job at the end.

Consider these options for your situation:

  1. Should you move? Does your area have a large amount of hospitality jobs? Is tourism a major force in your area's economy?
  2. Are you even working in hospitality in any capacity? You may need to wait to move up, but a consistent record of working in the field will help you move up faster.
  3. Can you work as an apprentice to a manager somewhere while you make money on the side?
  4. Have you explored all job search sites available to you? and are good job search aggregators.

I would consider all of these things before deciding you just need to go back to school.

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