If you are one of the many college seniors anxiously awaiting notification of the fate of your academic future, the wait is almost over (hopefully). The question is: what are you waiting for? What will that accept or deny letter signify for you? Is graduate school your plan A or your plan B?
If you applied "just in case" you don't get a full-time job, then grad school is your plan B.
If you are ready to start your career, don't give up on the job search. Instead, invest in attending job fairs, networking events and if necessary a career coach. Learn how to perform an effective job search and spend your time looking for ways to enhance your skills. Even taking one class in a certain subject is cheaper and faster than committing to a degree.
The average graduate student loan debt has reached $57,600. Even if you took a job (or two) making $30,000 per year for two years you'd be further along than taking on almost $60K in debt. In that same two years by working you would be adding to your professional experience, building your network and learning other skills that can make you more marketable or prepare you for a promotion.
If you are working a full-time job you can even start to invest money in a retirement plan 2-3 years before you would if you were a full-time graduate student (start learning now about the power of compounding interest). Even if you can pay for your graduate degree without loans, if your plan A was to find a job then stick to your guns!
Don't get caught in the trap of believing that if you can't find a job with a bachelor's degree that a master's degree will open every door that was previously shut. It just doesn't happen as often as you think. Almost always, experience trumps the degree. If a company is looking for candidates with a bachelor's degree with five years of experience, a master's degree and 0 years of experience isn't going to cut it. Also, your degree on the entry level won't equate to more money. If the job is paying $42k, you will probably still only get $42k with your advanced degree -- except now you your student loan payments are bigger.
If you applied to graduate school primarily because most of your classmates were doing it and followed the crowd, then graduate school is your plan B.
If you are just trying to delay joining the "real world" and student loan payments then graduate school is probably your plan B.
If you applied because you were tired of not having an answer when people ask, "so what are your plans after graduation" then grad school is your plan B.
In my senior year of college I too contemplated graduate school, law school, B-school and getting a job. Ultimately after graduation I got a job as a front desk receptionist at a gym for a few months. I knew I had a long career ahead and I just wanted to take it easy for a minute. Luckily, I had parents who didn't charge me rent and indulged my brief "sabbatical". By July I had my first professional job. I spent two years in college admissions gaining great professional experience, expanding my network, saving for retirement and understanding more about myself.
When I returned my attention to graduate school, my entire approach was different because I was different. My search was no longer driven by the US World News and Report rankings. My search became about being able to study and immerse myself in a subject area, advancing my skills and not going into ridiculous amounts of debt.
My search became about the program but also about where I actually wanted to live and relocate my life. Maryland was nowhere near my radar when I got out of undergrad. At that time I had dreams of moving to Boston (story for another time). But two years after graduation, Maryland was my destination of choice and became the place where I'd earn my Master's degree from Towson University, buy my first home, meet my husband and start a family.
Does everyone need a break between undergrad and grad school? No. Some people will plow right through without looking back. The way I did it is just one story amongst many. My path has led me here and your journey will take you to unexpected places personally, professionally and physically as well.
If going immediately to graduate, law, business or medical school is your plan A, then own that option (and try to not burden your future self with crippling student along the way). If graduate school is your plan B, don't try to force it and realize that not going is perfectly ok and perhaps even more courageous.
Sharise Kent is an College Success & Internship Expert. She spent five years managing a national internship program where she placed over 400 interns with some of the biggest media companies in the world. Prior to that she spent a decade in college admissions. Visit her blog to learn more.