Dear Christine,

I graduated from college three years ago, and have made my way through a couple of different jobs in the working world. I still haven’t found what I really love doing and I’m unhappy in my job. I’m thinking about going to grad school so that I can hopefully increase my earning potential. Plus, I just don’t know what else to do. I see friends who went directly to graduate school or law school are now heading towards their dream jobs and high salaries. I feel like I’ve gotten left out of some loop. Should I go to graduate school too? Or keep plugging away in the real world hoping that I’ll figure it out and make it too?

~ Prospective Grad Student, 25, Sacramento

Dear Prospective Grad Student,

I have noticed a trend: twenty-somethings attending grad school because they “don’t know what else to do.” In my opinion, this is not a good reason to go tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Plus, grad school does not come with a guaranteed epiphany regarding career direction or higher earning potential.

Furthering your education is not a decision to be undertaken lightly. I recommend some investigation. Have you even thought about what field and specialty you would study? Are you prepared to devote years to get your degree? Are you willing to take on some serious educational loan debt? Are there schools you want to apply to with programs specifically tailored to your studies near you? If not, are you willing to relocate? These are some important questions you must ask yourself and answer before applying to grad school.

Peter Vogt, a contributing writer for Monster and MonsterTRAK and author of Career Wisdom for College Students: Insights You Won’t Get in Class, on the Internet, or from Your Parents advises “Graduate school isn’t the place to find what you really love doing; it’s the place to go when you’ve already answered that question (many career paths don’t require a graduate degree of any kind). So no, don’t go to graduate school, at least not right now. Wait until you have a solid, unmistakable reason for taking that route. Instead, start talking to people — in person or via email or phone — whose careers intrigue you so that you can not only get a better sense of what possibilities exist, but also get a firsthand glimpse at careers that tap your unique passions and values. In other words, instead of risking thousands of dollars and a year or more of your life on something you’re not even sure you want or need to do, invest a little of your time and energy in research that will help you crystallize the best path for you, whatever it may be.”

So put out feelers to friends and contacts to see if they know people in those fields that might be willing to meet with you. Perhaps the career you want won’t require you to have a graduate degree – or maybe gaining on the job experience would be preferred and might actually benefit your salary more than the degree. You can also check out contacts through your alma mater’s alumni office. The more information you have in your arsenal, the more informed and concrete your future decisions will be. When you open yourself to asking for insight, and refrain from making any requests, you may be surprised by how many people come out of the woodwork to assist you.

And in terms of your friends who are acquiring more letters after their names, stop comparing. You are an individual with a unique past, present, and future. I know it’s tempting when lost along your career path to follow the crowd, but stop to evaluate before you jump off that major-debt-inducing cliff.

For some, going to grad school right after undergrad is a perfect fit. Others may just be going through the motions, postponing the plunge into the real world. Sure, your friends may seem to have their careers lined up; but some may be harboring doubts you don’t see.

If it turns out that graduate school is right for you, then go for it! It can be an incredibly rewarding, career building experience. But if you are not sure, then it can be an expensive, time-consuming, energy-zapping process. While we can’t know if every step we take is the right one, leading us to that dream future, there is a difference between a calculated risk and a blind one. Step wisely.

~ Christine

Christine Hassler supports individuals in discovering the answers to the questions: “Who Am I, What do I want, and How do I get it?” She is a Life Coach with a counseling emphasis specializing in relationships, career, finances, self-identity, personal and spiritual growth. Her expertise is centered on the twenty and early thirty something years of life.

Christine has authored two books: Twenty-Something, Twenty-Everything: A Quarter-life Woman’s Guide to Balance and Direction and The Twenty-Something Manifesto. As a professional speaker, Christine leads seminars and workshops to audiences around the country. She has spoken to over 10,000 college students as well as to conferences and corporations about generational diversity. Christine has appeared as an expert on The Today Show, CNN, ABC, CBS, FOX, E!, Style and PBS, as well as various local television and radio shows, speaking about life issues and “Expectation Hangovers®” – a phenomenon she identified and trademarked.

Christine is the spokesperson for Zync from American Express and the key resource for their Quarterlife Program, which empowers young people to take control of their finances. She also created a life balance curriculum for the Leadership Institute and is a member of Northwestern University’s Council of 100. Beginning this fall, Christine will serve on the faculty of the University of Santa Monica.

Christine grew up in Dallas, graduated cum laude from Northwestern University and received her Masters Degree in Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

You can connect with Christine on Facebook, through Twitter or at her website.