Should you wait out the recession in grad school?

Teacher’s college? Law school? Business school? A post-grad college communications program? We’ve all thought about it (and I assure you that I am no exception). But is it really a good idea to wait out the recession while dunking another five figures into more schooling?

On the one hand, if jobs are so scarce, it might be better to live in squalor for a couple more years and upgrade your qualifications with a master’s degree, instead of spending those years folding T-shirts at the mall. On the other hand, journalism is an industry that comes with an infamously low income-to-education ratio, so if you’re just looking for a return on your buck, grad school might not be the way to go. (If you just want to learn, then yes, by all means, go to school.)

A young neophyte recently wrote in to Joe Grimm’s Ask the Recruiter column asking this very question. He wrote:

“Many professors say that as long as I vary my skills and become multimedia-oriented, graduate school is a great way to ride out the economy while gaining experience in a less-stressful environment than a downsized newsroom. Others say it’s not worth the student loans that I most likely won’t be able to pay off on my “meager salary” as a journalist, which makes my blood pressure spike immediately.“As a student, I am confident in my abilities to learn and adapt to change quickly. I know I will succeed in graduate school. My question is, can I still get this same experience outside of the classroom, and will an employer think less of me as a candidate for pursuing graduate school immediately after my undergraduate degree?”

Grimm, who proclaimed that he’s not a fan of choosing graduate programs strictly on the basis of a return on investment, wrote back that “traditional job market for journalists is bad, yes, but I don’t know anyone who says it will be better if we just wait things out.”

He encouraged graduate school, but also preached the virtue of hands-on experience, noting that the job market is unpredictable, and that the recent grad would do well to prepare himself for a different kind of career that what he’d originally set out for when he began j-school four years earlier.

The conclusion? There is no right answer, and no wrong answer. But the days of landing a dream job before even being handed a diploma – and staying there until you’re ready to collect a pension – are over. That’s not to say your dream job isn’t out there for you; it just might not be what you originally expected. So work hard, keep sending out those resumes (or grad school applications), and keep your chin up. I do believe that everyone who truly wants to work in journalism will find her way eventually.

Oh, and for those out there that tend to think that brand-name j-school grads get their pick of jobs once they’re done school: Think again. Of my 2010 graduating class (Ryerson undergrad) of about 90, I only know of three that have found full-time, salaried positions in journalism. A few more have landed part-time work, contract gigs or promising freelance leads. The rest are hitting the pavement hard trying to find jobs.

And I’m curious: What is your back-up plan? (Mine is library sciences.)