Graduate School or Work?

Team members: Anas, Baihaqis, Sarah

It’s the debate that haunts every undergraduate student in their final year: graduate school or work?

With the slowly recovering economy, some may see graduate schools as one way to hold off the job search and building an impressive resume that would help them land the job. At the same time, with rising school cost students that are planning to do post-graduate studies will also likely want to increase their earning potential[1], hence their willingness to spend a few more years studying.

With the current economic climate, would post-graduate degrees hold more weight against bachelor degrees? If post-graduate degrees attract more income than bachelor’s, how varied is this advantage across majors/industries?

In order to answer these questions, we will analyze past data for employment rates of bachelor’s and post-graduate degree holders. We will use data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for year 2010, looking specifically at their datasheet of “Educational attainment for workers 25 years or older by detailed occupation” for the general trend of the whole US population. The datasheet we found listed all occupations available, but we will narrow our scope of analysis to include only four major groups: Computers and Mathematics, Engineering, Humanities and Liberal Arts, and Physical Sciences majors since these are the majors that we would likely to find in Vanderbilt. For now, our strategy is to look at each and every occupation and try to sort them into the four groups of interest. We will then take the mean percentage of employment for each group and also average the median salary of each to make our comparison.

Another source of data that we can use is from Vanderbilt’s Career Center. The Career Center publishes their “2009-2010 Post-Graduation Report” on their website that lists the percentage of Vanderbilt students going for graduate studies, number of graduates employed, and also their mean salary according to their major/industry. This would be very helpful to us to account the effect of the university name to the potential starting and mid-career salary[2].

We will use confidence interval and hypothesis testing to analyze our data and attempt to answer the questions posed earlier. Firstly, we would compute the confidence interval for our sampled data. We would use 90% and 95% confidence interval to determine how confident we are that the true mean employment rate and average salary falls into the computed interval. We decided to start off as being pessimistic: post-graduate degrees do not increase the chances of getting the job or a higher pay any more than bachelor degrees. Therefore, our null hypothesis is the employment rate and average salary for fresh post-graduate degree holders is the same or lower than fresh bachelor degree holders.

We do note the difference of importance of post-graduate degrees across different majors, so here we have two options: analyze these majors separately and come to possibly more than one conclusion, or we combine the results and note that given these composition of majors, the overall data seems to suggest only one trend: post-graduate degrees holders have higher or the same chance of employment as bachelor degree holders.

In conclusion, the questions posed earlier can be answered through the use of confidence intervals and hypothesis testing. No matter what the results are, they would be invaluable to us to determine what our next step after graduation should be.


[1]Grant, A. (2011, March 15). Get a graduate-degree job that pays more than $100k. Retrieved from

[2]Top US colleges — graduate salary statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Carnevale, A. P., Strohl, J., & Melton, M. (2011). Selected Findings from What’s It Worth: The Economic Value of College Majors, Retrieved from

(n.d.). Retrieved from

(n.d.). Retrieved from (click education.xls for the datasheet)