A master’s degree now, after a job or never? Aparna Sundaresan analyses the relevance of higher education at a time when tremendous value is placed on work experience
It’s getting hot, hot, hot. Competition, that is. And the world’s economies aren’t able to keep up. Work experience seems to edge out higher education in the race to employment. So must students now choose one over the other?
The wealth of work experience
For a lot of people, the norm is to graduate, get a job and work your way up. And as you move up the ranks, the experience you rake is as good as higher education. Nakita Saldhana, who works for a leading IT company, says, “I think hands-on experience is more relevant and teaches you more than you could ever hope to learn in a classroom. A master’s degree these days is useful for networking and building contacts.” Manoj Odunghat, a business development executive, who, like Saldhana, went straight to work after his bachelor’s degree, agrees. “I’ve come to understand that what you learn through experience stays with you for a longer time than what you try to pick from books.” Moreover, students are realising that there is a disconnect between books and the real world. Meera Bisht (name changed on request), who works in the development sector and took a year’s break between her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, attests to this. “I interned at NGOs [during the year off],” she says. “My internships were unrelated to my BA degree just as I had expected.” “The world is moving towards a scenario where skills are given more importance than college degree,” adds Odunghat, but also admits that “a basic bachelor’s degree does help to kick-start your career. Kick-start and nothing more.”
The wealth of higher education
On the other side are those who move on to a master’s degree right away. For them, it makes sense to finish their education when they are already certain of their specialisation. And as Kimberly Ferrao, a fresh MBA graduate, puts it, “The lure of having another degree and that too a master’s convinced me to jump straight from my bachelor’s to a master’s.” Work experience is valuable indeed but distracting. “I always knew that once I had a feel of what it was to earn some money, I would not like to put a stop to it. Had I started working right after my bachelor’s and settled for a job with a steady income, I would never have given myself a chance to pursue a master’s degree,” says Vignesh Sriram, a software professional. Rithika Nair, who also didn’t take a break between her degrees, is of the same opinion. “It is difficult to get back into the studying world once you start working. Difficult not in terms of admissions but in terms of getting the will power to drop earning and become a student again.” However, Nair admits that continuing with higher education does have a certain disadvantage. “Your classmates who started to work while you went off to study have already completed two years of working, and though they might have started off at a lower salary, they now match up to what I would be earning as a starter.”
Gaining another degree does mean losing some work experience, but there are several other benefits too. Kirthana Iyer, a hospitality management professional and MBA graduate, mentions one. “Many companies who hire students on campus after their masters look for fresh and nouvelle ideas, no pre conceived notions, creativity and innovation and those who can make a difference.” Danica Dsouza, who is currently doing a master’s degree in media, offers another. “Work experience does matter but in no way is it more educational than a degree. Working in the field narrows your focus to essentially what you’ve been told to do. A master’s/PhD programme opens you up to so many other areas, which you may not have even considered before.” Dsouza worked in television for four years before she decided to go back to college. Even Nikhil Warrier, a marketing specialist at a leading motorcycle brand, says, “Considering the industry I’m in and the fact that these days growth in one’s career gets stunted if one doesn’t have a higher degree it makes total sense for me to study further.”
Odunghat agrees, “I encourage sporadic thoughts of going back to academics so that one day, hopefully, I’ll be able to quit my job and study.” He hopes to be a teacher someday, quitting his current line of work for good.
The middle ground
And then there is the third category of students whose drill is to graduate, get a job, quit in a few years, return to education. For some, it’s a compulsion – MBA aspirants, especially – but for many others a job helps them find their area of speciality. “I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do after completing BMM (Bachelor of Mass Media),” says Dsouza. “So it made no sense to jump right into any media-related postgraduate course without finding out my area of focus.” This drill seems to have worked rather well for her. “My work background was a major plus, since I could apply that expertise in class (lectures, assignments, etc). I took up a media interactive course in my last semester, and I learnt programming and coding. I didn’t learn that at work, and I never thought about getting into that before, but in a master’s programme you get to choose from so many varied and different subjects that it broadens your horizon.”
Iyer too elaborates on how working in the industry for a few years before her MBA was useful. “As I had done hotel management, doing a master’s degree [immediately] would have been an advantage as a degree, but I would not have had a fuller appreciation or knowledge of grass root operations and a working culture which is the key to service. I might have had the qualification to be a manager but not the qualities of an effective manager.” In hindsight, even Ferrao, Sriram and Nair admit that some work experience might have helped them. “I believe that working for a while would have given me a clearer picture of what I wanted to do,” says Nair. “This would make a huge difference if you intend to go abroad and spread a fortune on your education.”
Warrier too indicates that a postgraduation would be helpful after some years of work. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with brand managers and marketing professionals from some of the top brands in the country. Most who are successful and well known are ones who have studied further after having worked for a number of years.” Subscribing to the same school of thought is Sneha Nagesh, a communications professional. “I think I might have done a different master’s if I had decided to do one after work. Working gives clarity on what kind of skills one should develop for the business world.” The consensus seems to be, yes, work experience is vital, but a master’s degree is vital too. The choice, therefore, is not between higher education and a career, but at which point in your career you need higher education.
“Working for a few years after the bachelor’s degree can be helpful for students who aren’t clear about their goals, personal interests and abilities. When there is a competitive selection process for admission to a master’s degree or a PhD, it makes sense to pause, reassess one’s commitment, capability and capacity for the preparation and application process. A cost-benefit analysis in the context of the prevailing job market and one’s financial comfort zone would also help. Youth of the 21st century will be working 4-5 decades. Commitment to continuous learning and skill building, being well-informed, adaptable and flexible will be important to thrive and succeed in this evolving and fast-changing workplace.” – Jayanti Ghose, education counsellor
Volume 4 Issue 3