Is Graduate School Worth It?

Though I’ve made a decision, this question had been stabbing at me for months, or longer. I am now in my last semester of undergrad at BYU-Idaho, so my future beyond my experience here is constantly a wonder on my mind.

I didn’t even think about graduate school as a tough decision in high school as I envisioned my future as a young teen. Back then, it seemed pretty simple: I would go to undergraduate college as a music major, then go to graduate school, then miraculously have an amazing job that pays well, get married and then have a family. Sounds like the American Dream, doesn’t it?

Well, as I am learning and gaining more experience in my undergraduate years, I am realizing how challenging school is, and that they only get harder as you continue. I even get headaches about it sometimes. Though I’ve heard some tragic unsuccessful stories about attending graduate school, it inspires me because of other success stories I’ve heard about attending graduate school.

graduate school worth graduation cap

I Love Music

I have labeled myself as a musician, specifically a violinist, for my entire life starting at the age of three. After I graduate from BYU-Idaho with a music degree, I can truly call myself an experienced musician (with a degree). However, it seems that I am not a “professional musician” until I have a graduate degree in music, according to the classical musician stereotype. What does “professional” even mean? “Professional” is relative. Sure, I could score a spot in a symphony somewhere, or become a music professor at a university, but is that only way I am a successful, professional musician? No? Challenge accepted.

graduate school worth music notes

Will I be a successful musician if I go to graduate school?

There is a blog that my mom showed me recently called “The WholeHearted Musician.” It’s not specifically about graduate school, but the author, Dana Fonteneau, does talk about how it is “okay” to get a job that does not involve a music degree. In fact, sometimes that job will offer appropriate experience and skills for another future, a better job, or will help organize a music career, as it surely did for her.

Dana is a talented cello player who now coaches dedicated musicians on performance anxiety and injury prevention. Because Dana pursued other interests as well as music, this made me think of the other interests I’ve always had as well: business.

People such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Casey Neistat, who now are billionaires and millionaires, and were high school/college dropouts, have always intrigued me. They had one bright idea and worked with it until it became something golden and powerful to the world.

Why can’t I find that one bright idea, or that one unique thing about my music, and show it off and suddenly make mega millions?

But, who knows? Maybe this 92 Keys opportunity will take off! Dana’s blog article helped open my mind a little more because “being a successful musician” does not mean constantly performing all the time.

Dana Fonteneau has another blog post that I found very helpful titled “Your Career Is What You Create it to Be: 5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Graduated from Music School.” The five sections included:

  1. Your career is what YOU make it to be
  2. Learn how to talk to people
  3. Surround Yourself with People who will make you grow,
  4. Open up a savings account and learn how to use it, and
  5. Prioritize self-care.

In her first section, she says, “The truth is that a career is something created over time, not a prize granted to a chosen few.” To me, I think the same concept applies to what “success” really is. Earning a lot of money does not have to define overall success. Graduate school does not have to define how successful I will be. I can choose to be successful no matter what because that’s how a successful mindset works!

However, graduate school could help educate me more in such a way that I feel more confident in my field and thus become more successful because of that confidence in knowledge. BUT, does knowledge have to come from college? Google can answer just about anything now before you finish typing your question into the search bar. Maybe graduate school has more to offer than just knowledge, though. Is it worth it still, then?

What are good, solid reasons to AVOID graduate school?

“. . . there is nothing wrong with being lost for awhile.”

An article from Forbes.com gave me reasons NOT to go to graduate school. “Going to grad school is a very expensive way to ask for directions. There is nothing wrong with being lost for awhile.”

Taking my first dip in the real world after I graduate from BYU-Idaho will be scary, especially the moment I realize that I may not find the perfect job right away. “Perseverance is cheaper than grad school.” Depending on the degree, sometimes someone with a graduate degree will get the same job with the same salary as someone without a master’s degree, and now that person is in debt. . .

“Don’t be the kid who chickens out. Have the courage to go after what you want. Having the courage is half the battle . . . People with guts are the ones that get the job, live the dream and live without regret.”

I feel like this statement could go both ways. “Live the dream and live without regret”? If I go to graduate school, I will have to make sure I get as much out of it as I can and create connections so that I can lead it where my career dreams/goals are. But, if I find the dream job/career and I haven’t gone to graduate school, then, heck, why should I ditch the dream?

Honestly, if you’re gonna go to graduate school, you better have a solid reason to go. Idealist.org says to NOT go to grad school for these reasons:

  • the struggle to find a job
  • personal/family pressure reasons
  • dissatisfaction with a current job
  • the desire to live in a certain area,
  • because of the curiosity of a certain subject (that’s what the Internet and the library are for).

The decision to attend graduate school should not be a light, instinctive decision.

What if I go to graduate school and realize I am wasting my time and money? (Is it too late at this point?)

I was talking to a graduate music friend back home, Jonathan Tsay, who has his masters and doctorate in piano performance. He told me that if I wanted to go to graduate school, I should have a solid reason to go. “Don’t go because it’s expected of you as a musician. Don’t waste your money.” He told me that it is good to take time off after graduating from undergrad.

“Get a job, even more than one. Find opportunities involving music, but find another job non-music related, and see if it’s something worth doing besides music. This will help figure out what the real world demands of a musician. Then, keep that experience in mind so it can be a central focus in graduate school.”

What if I’m missing out?

Another fear I have is the fear of missing an important opportunity. In Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice,  he says,

“One of the ‘costs’ of any option involves passing up the opportunities that a different option would have afforded.”

What if I go to graduate school and I feel like I am missing an opportunity that I could have experienced elsewhere? Or, what if I don’t go to graduate school, and am missing out on opportunities that is could be offering me?

Money is a huge factor in the decision of attending graduate school for most people. As a music major, especially, I would not want to have a shiny Master’s diploma while tripping over piles and piles of debt. “While you can say your undergraduate career is proof to an employer you can commit and succeed, graduate school is about learning advanced skills and meeting people that will be your professional connections for the rest of your life. Making sure you’re always present and viewed in a good light helps you stand out in a good way, and almost everyone you’ll work with wants to.” (LifeHacker.com)

Graduate school is scary and competitive, but I would plan to create tons of connections.

“. . . making sure you’re always present and viewed in a good light helps you stand out in a good way, and almost everyone you’ll work with wants to.”

My friend Beau Stephenson, a voice actor and college dropout said, “People go to college because they feel like it is the secure choice, and it is not the secure choice. You get more and more in debt every minute you’re in college, and when you finally leave college, you immediately have to start paying that debt.” This is the reality of the after effects of graduate school that scares me. However, is the debt still worth it?

“Money is neither good nor evil, it’s merely a form of fair exchange. The sooner you master your relationship to money the sooner you’ll be empowered in your decision-making, career choices and business organization.” (5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Graduated from Music School”)

People prioritize money too much and focus on how much is made and how much is lost or wasted. Yes, money is important and no one wants to starve to death, but money should not be a top priority, especially when deciding a career based on passion.

I watched a TED talk by Amanda Palmer, an alternative-rock icon, and she said,

“Don’t make people pay for music, let them.”

graduate school worth throwing money

Basically, ask and ye shall receive. Also, check this out!

How would graduate school affect my career differently from others (non-musicians)?

I recently bought a book called “Music Marketing for the DIY Musician” by Bobby Borg because business is something else that interests me. In a section titled “Just Get Out There And Do It,” it talks about how marketing can take a lifetime to master because it takes years and years of experience. This is similar to learning the violin, (and teaching it, actually). Sometimes you just have to throw yourself into the fire and get a few burns until you figure everything out.

What’s your “grit”?

Angela Lee Duckworth, in “The Key to Success? Grit,”  left a demanding job as a management consultant to go teach math to seventh-graders in public schools in New York City. She talked about how different students learn faster or slower than others, have different family backgrounds, and are more motivated by certain things they like. Angela described this motivation as “grit,” which is basically a determined work ethic. However, there is a certain passion behind the work ethic that makes the student work that hard.

Music is my “grit” and drives me to pursue graduate school to further my knowledge and skills, whether or not I actually decide to go.

“Inspiration comes, and then it is gone. You can’t make it come back, so if it’s there, you have to take care of it, nurture it, use it…”

I asked my friend Beau what made him decide to pursue voice acting, and why he felt the need to leave college. He said,

“When I was at BYU, I had all of these skills that I didn’t feel like I was using. I would go to class and … I wouldn’t do anything creative, and it was soul-crushing. And I thought ‘Well my end goal is to be creative, and what I’m doing right now is killing that creativity.’ There is no guarantee that that well is full after I graduate because that is not how creativity works. Inspiration comes, and then it is gone. You can’t make it come back, so if it’s there, you have to take care of it, nurture it, use it … College couldn’t give me creativity. It could give me a diploma, but the real world doesn’t give jack-squat about diplomas anymore.”

I found Beau’s advice insightful because it made me think of what college was doing for me, and how it has been making me think. College is not for everyone. It was not the place for Beau’s career, but for some people it is essential.

For me, college has definitely been definitely essential; it has completely reformed the way I think about music, education, politics, you name it. Not to mention I have made incredible connections in college, and I want to continue this when I graduate from BYU-Idaho. I believe graduate school would be good for me educationally, musically, and would provide more opportunities for me, and I believe I could also offer my own opportunities for the people I associate with during that time.

“To know what you want, to understand why you’re doing it, to dedicate every breath in your body to achieve… If you feel you have something to give, if you feel that your particular talent is worth developing, is worth caring for then there’s nothing you can’t achieve.” ~Kevin Spacey

Hey! Falling Slowly is our latest video! Neat.


By | 2017-01-20T19:34:06+00:00 January 19th, 2017|Music & Industry|

About the Author:

I am a classically-trained violinist currently getting my Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance at BYU-Idaho. I am a lover of all kinds of music, and am quite the nerd within the classical community, so I hope I can bring a new approach to classical music for those who are not as familiar with it.
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