Weighing Post-College Decisions

As a Junior in college, I need to start considering what I want to do after graduation. The two possibilities are to work in the corporate world and do application development or something of that flavor, or go to graduate school and pursue higher education. In this blog post, I will discuss my current understanding of some of the differences between the two, and I will share my knowledge/experience on the best way to prepare for each while in college.

Working and the Corporate world is completely different than going to graduate school and pursuing a career in academia. Real world jobs have some nice virtues, but academia does as well. In my time here as a student, I have been involved in a lot of academic research, which is a very important thing to have when applying to graduate school. I also had a summer internship at JP Morgan last summer. I have had some experience from both sides of the spectrum and they are completely different. While I'm still undecided on what I want to do after my undergraduate career ends, I at least have the experience from both so I will not have to make a blind decision. Some of the differences which I need to weigh and sort by importance are:

  • Money
  • Type of Work
  • Career Opportunities
  • Co-Workers and Colleagues

There is such a deficiency of capable computer scientists in the job market today that companies work really hard to recruit top talent. Thus, it would be fairly easy to lock down a corporate position and make handsome salary as well. In graduate school, on the other hand, there isn't a lot of recruiting that I'm aware of, and the financial status of most grad students is not even comparable with their corporate counterparts. People that go to grad school need to accept the fact that people working in industry will be making up to three times as much money as them. That's not as bad as it sounds, because most grad students get funding from their schools to do research and teach. This funding often covers full tuition and that is worth a lot these days.

The type of work in a corporate job can vary greatly between positions, but in general it's duplicating the work that somebody somewhere has already done. This is a generalization, and the actual work will vary from position to position. In graduate programs, however, students decide on a specific topic that they are interested in and they research it for the duration of their graduate career. By the time these students need to defend their thesis, it is not unlikely that they are one of the world's leading experts in that particular area. Grad students work on new and exciting problems that haven't been solved yet. These types of problems can be much more interesting but they are usually harder as well, because you can't simply do a google search and find the answers.

Some people say that they want to go work for a few years after graduation then consider going to pursue higher education after a few years. That all sounds like a good plan, but I've heard it's often hard to get back into the game of academia after being out in the corporate world for a few years. It's much easier to go the other way around, however. The career opportunities that would arise are much different for the two different paths, but they will both provide fun and exciting opportunities. In the corporate world, there is so much demand for talented programmers and there is a huge deficiency in supply of such programmers that there are certainly no shortage of opportunities. With this huge imbalance of supply and demand, it gives the job seekers a lot more power in choosing what they want to do. They don't necessarily need to accept the first offer they receive. Going to graduate school would open up a lot of opportunities in research areas. In particular, a lot of post-docs end up doing research for a public institution or a national laboratory. Going to graduate school would also open up a lot of opportunities in teaching at the college level. This is something that I have been interested in ever since I started tutoring.

The type of people that choose graduate school are often very different than the type of people who go work in the corporate world. For many people, they know whether or not they want to (or need to) go to graduate school when they first choose their undergraduate major, but there are also people out there who are still trying to figure out what would be the best fit for them (like me). In my experiences, academic environments are usually a lot more relaxed than corporate environments, but there are times when it can get very high paced such as when a paper is due.

Overall, there are a lot of good reasons to choose the corporate route, but I'm leaning towards furthering my education by pursuing graduate programs. I really like the academic environment, and I like the idea of becoming one of the worlds leading experts in a specific subject area. Going to graduate school will give me an opportunity to push the bubble of knowledge out just a little bit, which I think is really cool. I also never really want to stop learning; I've learned so much so far from my undergraduate courses, but there is still so much information out there to learn, and going to grad school is my best chance to learn it.

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