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Higher studies vs job – the perpetual dilemma

How to decide whether you should be opting for a job or higher studies


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Rohan Jain

3 years ago | 6 min read

As soon as students enter the last year of their undergraduate studies, they are faced with a dilemma that has been haunting students year after year for ages. Should they opt for a job directly after graduation or should they pursue higher studies instead?

If we look at the previous generation, the choice was less complicated, because the options were limited. Moving outside India for higher studies was not that mainstream, the private sector had not picked up that well, and there was limited exposure to the diversity of options. As a result, the choice was usually limited to trying your hands at UPSC, pursuing an MBA in India or opting for a job directly in one of the companies that visited the campus.

Now, however, the students are overloaded with options and ample exposure, which makes the choice much more difficult.

Should they pursue an MS or a PhD? And if yes, should they pursue the option from India or outside India? Or should they work for a few years and then try their luck with an MBA later? Or should they simply start working directly after their graduation without any plan of pursuing higher studies?

I was in the same shoes around 6 years ago. I was in the final year of my B.Tech at IIT Kanpur, grappling with the options available. Every option had its own merits, and there was no clear opinion that stood out. I sought advice from dozens of seniors and peers, but that only ended up confusing me even further, because each option has its own set of merits.

Opting for higher studies

While going through our undergraduate studies, we often realize that while we enjoy our field of studies, we want to gain deeper knowledge in a specific niche in the same stream.

If you are a Computer Science student, you might want to develop further understanding in Machine learning, or Computer Architecture. Higher studies help us dive deeper in a field to sharpen our knowledge in a niche. This can be very helpful, and might even be a pre-requisite, if we want to pursue a research career in that field.

For example, if you want to pursue an academic research career in Economics, you might need to pursue a PhD in Economics before. That way, higher studies help us find our sweet spot in the crowd of knowledge.

Interestingly, and quite ironically, higher studies also help us shift away from our prior field of study. Many of us, at the time of choosing our undergraduate streams, do not have a clear understanding on our career goals.

As a result, many of us end up in the wrong stream, only to realize at the end of our undergrad that we want to pursue some other stream altogether. Higher studies provide us with another chance to deviate from our core undergrad qualification. If you had done your B.Tech in Computer Science, but find ourselves more interested in Economics, you can pursue an MS in Economics to explore the field further.

If we want to shift to Management, we can opt for an MBA instead. That way, higher studies give us the license to shift away from our previous academic stream and develop our qualification in another stream of our interest to build our career in that direction.

Another benefit of higher studies arises when we want to level up our academic qualifications in terms of the ranking of our college, to look for better job opportunities later. If you are pursuing your studies from a college that is not among the top-ranked colleges in India, then you can improve your chances at your dream job much more if you end up pursuing higher studies in a college that is much better ranked.

Lastly, pursuing higher studies can give us another year or two to decide what we really want to do. Many of us, even in our final year of undergrad, are completely clueless about the type of career we want to pursue in life.

In such a scenario, opting for higher studies gives us the chance to delay taking the decision for another year or two. We get some buffer time to explore our interests further. More often than not, that buffer time can help us really find the field of our interest, which we might not have found had we started working directly.

Pursuing a job directly after graduation

There are, however, a few instances when pursuing a job directly after campus might make more sense. There are instances when you already know what you want to do in life, and you are being offered a job which matches your ambition. In such a scenario, it might make sense to directly opt for the job, instead of pursuing higher studies.

Unlike the earlier times, where the career path of a candidate used to plateau after some time without a higher degree, most companies these days value the performance in the job over your degrees. If you are a top performer, you will get promoted, even if you do not have an MBA or an MS.

Pursuing a job directly might also make sense if you wish to gain some practical work experience before deciding on whether you want to pursue higher studies or not. In fact, many business schools these days prefer PhD candidates who have some prior work experience, because that makes their research less theoretical and much more industry oriented.

For the same reason, business schools outside India also mandatorily require candidates to have 2-3 years of work experience to apply for an MBA. While the work experience is not a pre-requisite for an MBA in India, the business schools in India also allot some weight to the quality and duration of work experience of the candidate.

Lastly, pursuing a job might also make sense if you are in a situation where you need immediate financial help. Pursuing higher studies can be costly at times, and not everybody prefers taking a loan so early in their life. As a result, students sometimes wish to pursue a job directly after campus because that aligns more with their current financial needs.

Which of the two options is better: Higher studies or a direct job?

Very frankly, there is no single option that is better under all circumstances. The preferred option will depend on the individual’s situation, mindset and goals. It is not an easy situation at all, and in a lot of cases, the prospect of taking that decision can be daunting. In such scenarios, the best way to make an informed decision is to talk to as many people as possible.

This will help you gain perspective, and you would get to witness first-hand accounts of the people who have chosen each path. However, at times, you might not be able to come to a decision even after talking to hundreds of people.

In such situations, taking a leap of faith is the best way to move forward, as you never know where you might finally end up in life anyway.

I had decided to opt for an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad directly after my B.Tech. It was not a very conventional decision, because most computer science graduates from IIT Kanpur either opt for an MS or a PhD outside India in their core profiles, or opt for a job directly in one of the global software giants.

I, however, was more attracted towards management. It was not an instantaneous decision. I explored my interest in management by opting for multiple management-related courses at IIT Kanpur, along with pursuing an internship at London Business School.

The internship and the courses exposed me to the world of management, and I found myself getting more and more inclined to pursue an MBA.

Once I had made up my mind, I had two options: I could either pursue an MBA directly from India, or I could work for a few years and then try my luck at an MBA in India or outside India. I decided to opt for the former, simply because I did not want to delay my decision of pursuing management any further.

I already knew I wanted to shift towards management, and I wanted to take that decision as soon as possible so that I could focus on my career in the world of management as early as possible.

For someone who wanted to pursue management directly, there could be no better option than pursuing an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, and I chose that option without giving it any further thought. It has been many years since I took that decision, and I have never felt an ounce of regret.

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Rohan Jain

Consultant, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) | IIM Ahmedabad'17 | CSE, IIT Kanpur'15. Quora: 105K+ followers | LinkedIn: ~30K followers | Instagram: ~9K followers. Ardent traveler: 32 countries & counting


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