by Stacey Stateler
Transitioning from post-secondary education to a relevant career can be a trying experience at any time. During a pandemic, these challenges can be even more daunting. As a university student coming towards the end of her bachelor’s degree in anthropology, I know all too well that possibilities have become harder to navigate than ever.
When you come close to finishing your bachelor's degree, there's a fork in the road that every student has to face: the grad school question.
If you want to pursue a career in academia directly related to what you've studied, you'll likely have no choice but to go through with grad school. If you want to be a psychologist, you can't call it a day with a bachelor’s degree. On the other end, grad school means mountains more of student debt, years more of living on a student budget, and a never-ending workload. You could, instead, take applicable skills you've learned in your degree- and apply them in a different career setting. For instance, myself and many other students are provided with experience in using the statistics software SPSS. This software and general inferential statistics training can translate into a plethora of career paths without needing to go to grad school.
The major difference here, of course, is that you forgo a degree of your specialization if you do decide to call it a day and just use generally applicable skills-in the short run at least. Obviously, this is a difficult choice, and honestly one I’ve battled with constantly through my education. The pressure to be the best of the best if you decide to do the PhD route is terrifying.
Although I’ve yet to make my decision, I can provide some words of advice when you, as a soon-to-be bachelor’s degree recipient do reach that fork in the road. First of all, you want to consider your ultimate goal: money, or the specialization you sought out for. Secondly, as harsh as it sounds, you need to think about your performance while you’ve done your undergraduate. It’s not just about your GPA, though; grad schools care about things far beyond your GPA. If you are an anthropology student, your experience in field schools will matter; involvement in extra-curriculars matters too. People do make it into grad school with quite low GPA’s if they’ve done a lot of volunteer work and had the hands-on experience, so as cliche as it sounds, it’s always something worth considering. Grad schools will choose an experienced, involved person who has applied their skills with a 3.4 GPA, before they’d consider an armchair academic with a 4.0.
Next, just like the SPSS software thing, find an applicable skill you learned in school. Experience is everything in the long road-even in academia. Grades will matter less and less if you get to the grind with even somewhat relevant experience. An archaeology class you took in your undergrad on ceramic analysis could lead you to a cataloguing/archiving type job in cultural resource management, and that will look so much better on a grad school resume than being in the honours program. Someone very close to me used her bachelor’s in psychology to get a well-paying job working with autistic children as she prepared for grad school.
Overall, I think what’s important here, is that we keep applying our skills that we’ve learned. That piece of paper only means something if you live by it. Taking more and more gradually relevant jobs as you decide whether to attend grad school will either prove meaningful enough in itself, or give you a stellar resume if you apply for master’s program. It’s a win-win situation regardless.