Is it a good idea to do grad school after Peace Corps?

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The Declining Benefits of Degrees Part 1

educator-employer disconnect

In this series, we’re catching you up on the many shifts within the educational world over the past few years and what it means for you. If you’re considering school after Peace Corps, you won’t want to miss out on this.

For the sake of discussion, let’s call students a middle man. They “purchase” degrees from universities, and “sell” them to employers to make a “profit” a.k.a. making a living.

This is a convenient arrangement for universities. Students are, by definition, newbies. Most of them don’t know what they should be looking for in an education, and they rely on the university make this decision for them. By the time students know what they needed from their education, it’s too late to go back. And there’s an endless stream of new customers in line behind them waiting to get a degree.

This disconnect, along with a steady rise in demand for higher degrees, has allowed universities to get pretty lazy about customer satisfaction.

who’s the customer? 

On the surface, a university’s customer appears to be the student. Universities have done a great job satisfying this customer—grade inflation, reduced rigor, gorgeous campus amenities, and a suite of collegiate experiences keep students happily paying rapidly rising prices for degrees of decreasing professional value.

But universities have almost completely ignored the ultimate customer and end-user of their degrees: employers. Most of us unquestioningly accept that the “real world” is totally different from what they teach in school. But why should it be this way? Universities claim to make us competitive job candidates by preparing us for the real world of work. When they consistently fail in this, does their product still have value for us?

The common response: school teaches you how to think.  This is correct and good. But is that all we can reasonably expect from multiple years of full-time study? Various cases of successful education-to-employer pathways around the world would suggest otherwise.

career students

Universities train students to be successful in universities. This has fueled the growing trend of career students, who perpetually study because they are proficient academics and feel unprepared to do anything else.  Career students often end up with PhDs, which allows them to become professors. They train up the next generation of academics without ever having experienced other work environments. The academic world isolates itself further.

The number of careers well-suited to academic training are precious few. For everyone else, the school-work divide means their first employer has to start from square one training them to operate in a professional setting, just like their non-degree holding counterparts. The amount employers are willing to pay for their degree decreases accordingly.

That’s not the whole story. Stay tuned for Part 2, and what you can do about it.

 

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the true cost of graduate school after Peace Corps

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the first two articles in this series:

 

The Golden Rules of Grad School After Peace Corps

 

5 Reasons in Favor of Grad School After Peace Corps, and 4 Reasons Against It

 

Even if you have a full ride, graduate school can be costly.

School fees are the most obvious costs, but not the biggest ones. Don’t forget to include these crucial factors in your cost calculations.

 

1. lost income opportunity

How much could you be earning if you took a job today? Even a full ride with stipend likely won’t put anywhere near the amount of money in your bank account as a full-time job would. 

 

2. interest on student loans and other debts

Since you’re not earning what you could be, then you’re not paying off the debts that you could be.

 

3. lost compound interest opportunity

The earlier you start saving, the more time your money has to earn interest on interest. That means more, better, or earlier retirement. Without a job that offers retirement benefits or enough extra income to invest, you’re missing out on years of compound interest.

 

4. real-world experience

Most employers value experience over education. Many will accept a couple years of experience in place of a degree.  A lot will choose a more experienced candidate over a more educated candidate. A few years of grad school means less real-world experience.

 

5. lost promotions, raises, and incentives

The Millennial generation has shown a strong tendency to change jobs frequently, so employers are offering increasingly strong incentives for staying on the job more than a couple years. Grad school puts you a few years behind on those benefits.

 

6. out-of-pocket personal expenses

Even if your fees are covered, you may still be paying living expenses from savings, loans, or credit cards. Same goes for the cost of relocating for your grad program. Spending your savings means less compound interest. Going into debt means paying for accruing interest later on.

 

7. differences in cost of living

The cost of living in your potential job market may be markedly different from the cost of living at your potential school. 

 

8. taxes

Full-time students generally don’t earn enough to pay taxes. Account for your federal and state tax rates when you consider how much potential income you could be losing by attending graduate school.  

 

9. experiences you’re putting off

Graduate school can be a double-edged sword when it comes to cool new experiences. Lots of travel grants are only available to students. Your time is generally more flexible. On the other hand, student stipends (if you have one) don’t generally allow for European vacations. And if your grad work is demanding, you may not have time for a vacation anyway.

 

But don’t grad degree holders earn more over their lifetimes?

Yes, the lifetime earning potential of a graduate degree currently outweighs these drawbacks over the course of a career. However, that only works if you actually like the field enough to spend the rest of your career working in it. And Millennials–who generally value experience and growth over income and prestige–don’t tend to do that.

To boot, we expect that the longstanding trend of more education = more income will markedly taper off over the next 10 years as the number of degree holders meets or exceeds the number of jobs available for degree holders. 

so what does that mean for your career?

~ Stay tuned! ~

 

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5 Reasons in Favor of Grad School After Peace Corps

and 4 Reasons Against it

 

The Golden Rules of Grad School After Peace Corpsare the heavy hitters in the battle of school vs. work. If you have both of them in the bag, the decision is pretty easy.

But life is messy, and sometimes the two Golden Rules end up in opposite corners of the ring. Or some twist in the plot that makes things not so clear cut.

Here we share some other factors to keep in mind when deciding on school. These are frequently overlooked, but always worth a second glance.

 

in favor of school… 

The job market is terrible.

To be clear, “terrible” doesn’t mean that you personally can’t find a job you want. It means that experts in the field agree that prospects are temporarily poor for professionals in your field. If you want to work for the Environmental Protection Agency or the US Agency for International Development, this might be you. 

Your degree isn’t super useful on it’s own.

Some bachelor degrees are foundational. For example, a B.A. in History doesn’t qualify you for a lot of jobs. Add a M.A, and you can teach at a community college. Get a Ph.D, and you can teach at a university. Go for a J.D., and you’re a lawyer.

Your field of work is tiny.

If your field is steadily shrinking, the pay is terrible for everyone, or employment prospects are long-term poor, then it’s time to shift gears. A grad degree is a great way to do that without starting over completely. 

It’s been almost 6 months since your last skill-development position.

A skill-development position is work that helps you grow your marketable skill set. Peace Corps definitely falls into this category. If you’ve been looking for work but haven’t found anything beyond entry-level customer service-type gigs, then it’s time to move on. Grad school is an expensive fallback, but less expensive than stagnation.

You need a supportive cohort.

Maybe you don’t have a home to go to, you really need a morale boost, or you reel at the thoughts of being away from your fellow PCVs. Much like Peace Corps, grad school surrounds you with a community of like-minded people doing exactly what you’re doing. In contrast, meaningful connections in the workplace are more challenging or even discouraged.

in favor of work… 

You want a PhD.

You have Peace Corps non-competitive eligibility for 1 year, or up to 2 if you go back to school. Legitimate PhD programs take longer than 2 years. So if you’re aiming for a PhD, consider taking advantage of that non-competitive eligibility to load up on cash and experience before you hit the books.

It’s an online or part-time degree.

Degrees that allow you to continue working full time are much more likely to be funded by your employer. When you get that glowing one-year review, come prepared with rationale for how the program will make you an even better worker, and offer to take it in lieu of a raise. 

You’re ready to earn money.

Student loans are hanging over your head, or you’re just overdue for a vacation that doesn’t involve a hostel. Bring home them dollars for a couple years. In the meantime, you’ll definitely learn more about what you want to do in grad school, and you might find a grant or employer to pay for it.

You still feel like a kid.

Grad school is like Peace Corps–you live your job. If you went straight from high school to college to Peace Corps, you might be pretty sick of structured environments and always feeling like a newbie. Dying to finally knowing what’s going on around you, be proficient at something, get paid for it, and clock out in time to raise a ruckus at happy hour? Then hold off on grad school. 

 

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Grad School After Peace Corps

Most Peace Corps Volunteers plan to pursue a graduate degree at some point. But should you do it now, or later?

If you’re thinking about going to grad school after Peace Corps, then you won’t want to miss this series on Grad School After Peace Corps. We’re going to be sharing insight from people who have been there and bringing to light the most frequently overlooked factors that you won’t want to miss when making your decision.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring Reasons to (Not) Go to Grad School After Peace Corps and The True Cost of Graduate School After Peace Corps. But first, let’s find out:

The Two Golden Rules of Grad School After Peace Corps 

Wondering if now is the time for grad school? The answer is easier than you think. The two golden rules of grad school are (almost always) an easy litmus test for whether you should be hitting the books not.

(Watch for our upcoming articles to learn about the ever-important exceptions!)

 

1. You know exactly what you want from grad school

This is you if you…

  • have already worked in a few aspects of your chosen field
  • know what you like and don’t like to do within your field
  • love the field and plan to continue in it
  • have reached a point where you can’t easily advance without more education
  • know exactly what program will best serve your career and what you need to focus on within it 
  • know there is a market for your degree in the area you want to live

This is NOT you if you…

  • feel really drawn to X field and want to learn more about it
  • figure you’d be good at it/enjoy it since you (fill in the blank)
  • just want to get all your education over with ASAP
  • are interested in so many programs, you can’t decide!

 

2. You aren’t paying

 

This is you if…

  • you got a full scholarship
  • the school will pay your fees, health insurance, and living stipend if you work on campus (e.g. teaching assistant, research assistant)
  • your employer is paying
  • the program is at a non-USA school and living and school expenses are extremely affordable (make sure your degree will be valid wherever you want to eventually live)

This is NOT you if you…

  • are eligible for loans
  • have saved enough money to pay for the program (exception: non-USA schools)
  • can keep working to pay for the program

Of course there’s exceptions to every rule. We’ll talk more about those in our upcoming articles. Don’t miss it!

 

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What to do after Peace Corps Early Termination

What do early termination Peace Corps Volunteers need? Tons of support. Learn more here. 

If early termination sounds like the end of your world, check out How Early Termination Will Impact Your Life.

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*the writer wishes to remain anonymous

It’s already tough to figure out what you should do after Peace Corps.

What happens when you add early termination to the mix? 

If you haven’t already, check out What’s Early Termination from Peace Corps Like? and How Early Termination Will Impact Your Life

ETing is sometimes involuntary, which can be traumatizing for volunteers who have invested so much in their service. One volunteer’s* medical officer ETed her even after she had met health improvement requirements.This is her story.

“…Although my ET was a medical separation, it still imbued me with an immense amount of shame.”

“There was more than a hint of competition among some volunteers, be it for doing the most projects or living with the fewest amenities possible. In that environment, ETing was a mark of failure inevitably associated with being unable to cut it. Although my ET was a medical separation, not an administrative separation (used for those who broke regulation), it still imbued me with an immense amount of shame.  I suppose I shouldn’t let something that isn’t my fault affect me so deeply, but it did.

 

   Health Challenges

 Throughout my six months of service, I had almost nonstop stomach issues that made eating painful.  I wasn’t sure of the source, and nothing I tried seemed to make it better. I doubted it was the stress of being in a foreign country; I’d previously lived in China, central Africa, and South America without issue.  But suddenly, eating anything more than a few bites made me feel ill. I continued with my daily activities, but felt discomfort or pain multiple times a day, and started losing weight. 

 

The Medical Office

I was in very regular communication with one of the Peace Corps nurses, who was extremely kind to me and had me come to the capital for various medical tests, none of which revealed anything conclusive. I started working with another medical officer when she took a leave, and he took over arranging appointments and follow-ups for me. At one point, though, he suggested that the whole thing was a recurrence of anorexia, which I’d had eight or so years prior. I insisted that it wasn’t, as I had been doing everything I could that the medical officers and nurses said I should do in order to gain back weight. I didn’t want to lose weight.

Eventually, I was told that if I could achieve a certain weight in a month, I could stay. I considered this seriously.  I could be in pain for a month, I figured, and not disappoint all the kids I had been working with at the school. Or I could have less pain but have to go home. I decided on the former.

 

The Decision

At the end of the month, I had met the weight gain goal the medical office had set for me. Nevertheless, the nurse and medical officer decided that I should go home anyway. Everything happened very quickly. One day they informed me of their decision, and the next day I was traveling back to my village to pack. I only had one night in the village, so I was only able to say goodbye to the principal of the school and to my homestay family. The next day, I was on a plane.

 

Life After Early Termination

I don’t typically like to broadcast my negative experiences, or even label an experience as a bad one. But the whirlwind of those months, and especially those last few days, is something I rarely wish revisit, even now, five years later.  I felt tremendously appreciative of how many staff members put so much time, energy, and heart into helping me. But at the same time, I kept thinking of all the kids whom I felt I had failed. I had told them what we’d be doing the following semester. They wrote me get-well notes. And then I wasn’t there for them, without explanation. Their faces stayed in my head for a long, long time. My thoughts of them eventually decreased from every day, to weekly, to monthly. But I doubt they will ever disappear.

 

Advice to Others

It’s really hard not to feel guilt or shame, but, unless you break the rules, shit happens that is oftentimes it’s no one’s fault.  It doesn’t say anything about you as a person, or mean that you can’t do x, y, and z in the future. It’s important not to make it bigger than it is.”

 

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What is early termination from Peace Corps like, and how will it affect your life after Peace Corps? 


 Seems like Peace Corps Volunteers can talk about anything. Wriggling parasites, rotten food, the ugliest of bodily functions–nothing is too raunchy for these ironclad stomachs. But utter these two little words and faces blanch: early termination.  

As taboo as the topic can feel in Peace Corps circles, early termination is very common. In fact, more than 1 in 10 volunteers’ service ends early.

There are  myriad reasons  for early termination, but no matter what, it is always unexpected, painful, and isolating for the Volunteer. 

That’s because Volunteers have invested hugely in their service. They’ve expected significant personal and career growth upon completing their service.  So it’s no wonder an early end feels like the biggest failure ever.

So how does early termination impact the rest of your life?


1. You’ll miss the experiences you would have had in your community.

3. If your training + service was less than 12 months, you resigned, or you were administratively separated, then you aren’t be eligible for non-competitive eligibility status on job applications with the US government.

4. If you resigned or were administratively separated, then you aren’t eligible for the Coverdell fellowship program.

 

THAT’S IT.

You’re probably feeling like Volunteers who ET have to live with the shameful blemish of their Peace Corps service hidden from the world forever. But that’s simply not the case.

Actually, the vast majority of people–including US government employees–don’t have the foggiest idea what “normal” Peace Corps service is, much less how yours may have been different. The few people that might notice your service dates are other Returned Volunteers. Fortunately, they also understand the complexities of service terms, and at most are thinking your shorter service must mean you have a fascinating story.

 

Let’s imagine your resume says Peace Corps 2017-18.


This could mean:

  • You served in Peace Corps Response.
  • All volunteers in your country dramatically evacuated in perilous 007-esque circumstances.
  • You contracted a little-known jungle disease.
  • You served 2 years, from January 2017- December 2018.

The point is, what looks to you like a terrible admittance to failure blaring from your resume doesn’t actually mean anything to anyone at all.

 

Here’s what will stay the same whether you ET or not:


  1. You experienced life-altering, mind-opening things.
  2. You met people and saw places you’ll never forget.
  3. You’ll get all the social and career prestige of being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.
  4. You feel totally accepted in Peace Corps crowds.
  5. Peace Corps appears on your resume.
  6. You have the character traits and work ethic of a Peace Corps Volunteer.
  7. Your Peace Corps service impresses potential employers. 
  8. You’re proud to be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

 

Early termination is emotionally tumultuous. Fortunately, the emotions are  the worst part of ETing. Be sure to process your emotions in a health way. Then you’ll regain your perspective on all the amazing people, places, moments, smiles, connections, and lessons that truly define your Peace Corps experience. Early termination will become a small detail barely worth mentioning. And you’ll still be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

What to do after Peace Corps Early Termination

What do early termination Peace Corps Volunteers need? Tons of support. Learn more here.

If early termination sounds like the end of your world, check out How Early Termination Will Impact Your Life.

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