Why Go to Graduate School?

Perhaps the best reason to go to graduate school is a passion for EE or CS and the desire to conduct research. Working with a faculty member in a research lab as an undergraduate is not only a good way to get involved in cutting-edge research but is a great way to get a feel for graduate life – which can help you to determine whether or not graduate school is for you. Possessing undergraduate research experience can be a great asset to your C.V. and graduate school application, and can help you to develop a stronger relationship with your sponsoring professor, which will come in handy when you begin to collect letters of recommendation. The best preparation for graduate school is to engage in research as an undergraduate. Research experience is now virtually a requirement for graduate admission to many EECS Ph.D. programs. If you are interested in graduate school, but have not yet been involved in undergraduate research, it would be in your best interest to search out research opportunities. Be willing to volunteer on a research project that interests you.

In many EECS fields, an M.S. degree is effectively the entry-level requirement, simply because these areas are too complex to master in two years of upper-division course work. In general, people with master’s degrees and doctorates are given more freedom, more responsibility, and more interesting work to do. A Ph.D. is a requirement for university teaching and is nearly a requirement for work in industrial research labs.

An advanced degree can make a difference in your starting salary. In 2015, UC Berkeley EECS graduates were offered average starting salaries of $100,000 at the B.S. level, $111,400 at the M.S. level, and $112,000 at the Ph.D. level.  While at first glance it may seem more financially rewarding to pursue a graduate degree, you will also want to factor in the costs associated with attending a graduate school, especially the number of years you spend in graduate school dependent on your program.  Typically it takes around 1-3 years to complete a Masters degree and at least 5 years to pursue a PhD.  Typically, if your primary goal is to maximize your life-long financial compensation, a Ph.D. degree is unlikely to be the best way to attain that goal, due to the lost earnings potential and experience that cannot be accrued as you study for your Ph.D.  The overall earnings level for Ph.D.s is also lowered by the fact that many of them start with a few years as Postdoctoral Fellows, a position which doesn’t have a great salary.  However, for those passionate about teaching and research, the somewhat lower financial rewards will be compensated by the nature of work in the university.