Go to Master's Program or Job then Master's Program?
December 7, 2009 6:14 PM   Subscribe

Is it better to go immediately to graduate school in electrical engineering or work in the area of specialization you like and then go to graduate school?

Asking for someone else:

A friend of mine is about to finish his bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and is considering either going into a Master's program or going to a job (he's already been pre-offered one) before going into graduate school. The catch is the graduate school is the same one he currently attends undergrad at and he has had problems with the administration and some faculty members of the graduate school. He has also not had the most stellar grades as they go and has had problems graduating on time so he's finally finishing his bachelor's degree in seven years in a program that's normally five.

He worries that if he goes into the job market he won't be able to eventually go to graduate school given that he thinks his grades will severely affect him more than the possible benefits of working in the area and field that he plans to specialize in.

Also, the graduate program he could get into was at some level, strong-armed by a professor into letting him into the program after he was rejected and definitely holds some conditions that are rather less than favorable.

One of the conditions is that he will be treated as a Master's student that has failed his first year and therefore has several grade requirements to be met, etc.

Would it be better and possibly more advantageous to get the job that lets him work on his field or to go into this Master's Program?

Throwaway email at gradorjob@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Education (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Put simply, if you start working, you won't go back to school for a looooong time, if ever.

If you really want to go on to grad school, do it now.
posted by pla at 6:18 PM on December 7, 2009

My husband, who began in Electrical Engineering at his company and is now a Director who does some hiring, says take the job now. There is always the possibility that the place of employment will even pay towards your friend's graduate degree in the future.
posted by misha at 6:19 PM on December 7, 2009

The guy took seven years to do a five year program and got a job offer. This is unusual and the employer is saving his bacon. The graduate school wants to look over his shoulder and impose additional scrutiny; the employer does not. I would tell him to take the job, live frugally, and set aside savings with the general idea of doing a grad program. If the employer agrees to pay for a masters down the line, so much the better.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:28 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Courses at the grad level are harder than the undergrad level. Your friend may not make it through the master's program, especially since it seems like they're going to be watching him closely. Normally they say a Master's in engineering is worth it for the specialized higher-paying jobs it opens up, but that's tempered by the risk of failing or dropping out and wasting a year or two when you could have been working and building your career. In your friend's case it seems this risk is higher than normal. It's a tough call. To me it would also depend on if the job he has lined up will still be there in a year or two if he needs it. If it will evaporate (likely I would think), I would think he should take it now.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:30 PM on December 7, 2009

Yeah, in a lot of engineering fields the best way to get a master's is to demonstrate your worth to the company and then get the company to pay for your masters'. With a good pending job offer, it can be a mistake to pay for your own master's.

Put simply, if you start working, you won't go back to school for a looooong time, if ever.

This just isn't true for engineering MS programs, many of which are offered as evening or distance-learning programs to accommodate working professionals.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:32 PM on December 7, 2009

Take the job IMHO. A future grad school will, I believe, look favourably on relevant engineering employment.

For that matter if he gets a job, and starts working for let's say 3 years, at that point he may very well be further ahead in salary, status, and responsibility than a new hire with a masters' degree.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 7:33 PM on December 7, 2009

I have hired a lot of EE's over the years.

A MS will get you a slightly higher starting salary (about 10%). But beyond that I never gave it much more weight in hiring decisions. Frankly I always felt that GPA was a better indicator of future performance and would hire a 4.0 BS over a 2.1 MS any day. It sounds like your friend is already struggling with academic performance. I would advise him to take the job offer.

As it was pointed out above he can always do the MS part time later (maybe on his employers dime) if he really wants to.
posted by Long Way To Go at 7:53 PM on December 7, 2009

In a lot of circumstances, I'd say go for the graduate school. Engineering is generally kind of an exception to that. I'm in grad school for mechanical engineering without having gotten a job first, but I was offered funding when I was accepted at the school I'm currently attending, so I didn't have to pay for it myself. In many cases in engineering, your company will gladly pay for you to get an advanced degree.

Regardless, even if I had had no experience with grad school in this particular subject, the following:

The catch is the graduate school is the same one he currently attends undergrad at and he has had problems with the administration and some faculty members of the graduate school.

makes me certain that he should take that job. This situation will not improve, and will make grad school much more difficult and miserable for him right now. If he has problems with the administration and some faculty members now, he certainly won't like them any more while working for/with them in graduate school under some very unfavorable-sounding circumstances.
posted by malthas at 8:42 PM on December 7, 2009

49,055.00 x 10 yrs total 490,550.00 (lower salary EE range for 1st year employment)
61,061.00 x 10 yrs total 610,610.00 (higher salary EE range for 1st year employment)
70,721.00 x 8 yrs total 565,768.00 (Master EE)

Assuming Masters takes 2 years and looking at 10 year horizon, then the above is pay based on Payscale.com data for Masters EE and EE range.

The higher end for 5-9 years experience is 81,291.

A masters in this case would be ill-advised for the circumstances mentioned in the original question in addition to raw income data. Work, work well, and then reevaluate the masters.
posted by SantosLHalper at 9:18 PM on December 7, 2009

Take the job!!! It's becoming more and more common to work for a couple of years before starting grad school, and I think that's the best way to do things. You avoid student burn-out, and gain work experience (nobody really wants to hire someone who has only been a student). I got mediocre grades and when I went back to grad school (4 years after finishing college) I got As in every class- I was much more motivated and treated it like a job rather than school.

And it sounds like if your friend does go to grad school, it would benefit him to go to another school. That generally looks better on a resume, and he also wouldn't be carrying around the same baggage at a different academic institution. As long as he does well on his GREs or whatnot, a year or two of work experience would make him a much more comptetitive applicant than he is right now.

TAKE THE JOB. as an added bonus, many employers will pay some or all of your tuition if you pursue a masters degree part-time.
posted by emd3737 at 9:37 PM on December 7, 2009

Yep. Grad school can wait, and job experience might make it a better experience if and when if happens.
posted by Bergamot at 12:34 AM on December 8, 2009

I'd actually say even strong students going for a PhD the sciences should now seriously consider working for a couple years, assuming they (a) don't get into a top 5 program and (b) find an interesting enough job.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:49 AM on December 8, 2009

Most of the people I know from undergrad spent some time working before heading back to grad school, no matter how strong their applications were. (This includes me!) The people most stressed out in my current PhD program are the people who went straight from undergrad to grad school. Grad school is definitely not a now-or-never situation, and getting experience working in the field will not hurt your friend's grad school applications. (Indeed, after a rocky undergraduate degree, good recommendations and a few successful years in the field will probably help counterbalance those undergraduate grades.)

All of this is leaving out the unpleasant academic conditions your friend would have to deal with if they stayed at their current university for their Master's. The department has your friend on probation before they've even started, and the department had to be strong-armed into giving your friend even that mediocre chance. (Plus, your friend would be dealing with the same school and department and professors they had so much trouble with during undergrad - a little psychologically taxing even if they've shaken the problems that caused them trouble while getting their Bachelor's.) It sounds to me like your friend would really benefit by being able to start over fresh in another Master's program.

Get the job. Do well at it. Apply to other universities for grad school in a few years, possibly funded by the job.
posted by ubersturm at 6:29 AM on December 8, 2009

Been working, now applying for a Master degree. I want to echo what was said above: get a job, and keep the dream alive in your heart, that you will go back to grad school some day. Going back to school while working is certainly going to be harder. He will have to overlook a nice income; solve more problems such as mortgage, relationship, health care...etc. However, other things will be easier too: he will know what he want to study, what's more useful (i.e. what's needed in the industry), perhaps more financial resources (from employer and himself). Best of all, the obstacles of real life imposed on schooling will make him value school much more. Graduate school should not be a place to hide from reality; it is an expensive hidey hole (in term of opportunity cost and real cost). Plus, choosing the right field to go into is very important. He will be investing very productive years of his life earning very little. And not all PhD will get paid well. In fact, the more specialized you are, the smaller the market for your skill (but of course, the less competition, hopefully, you will face getting into that market). Make sure you don't study a PhD in horse-buggy whip-manufacturing.

One reminder though: get his letter of recommendations from the professors NOW, when they still remember his face and what he did. I'm working on the application for graduate school, and all of them said they would like a letter of recommendation from an academic professor. I've been out of school too long to get one. Just ask for a generic letter. Later, if you want to refresh it, you can send that letter back to the prof and ask them to write a similar one specific to your graduate program. And hopefully, a glowing letter of rec will balance out his low grade.
posted by curiousZ at 10:30 AM on December 8, 2009

I'm an EE who got a job and later went back to get my MS part time.

Getting an MS part time is hard, but it's nice to have someone else pay for it. It also didn't greatly help my job prospects, because by the time I got it, my work experience negated any extra effect an MS would have at my current company.

If grad school is in the future, letters of recommendation now, and GRE test taking now makes a lot of sense.
posted by garlic at 1:28 PM on December 10, 2009

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