This article is published in the June 2022 issue.

The Decision to Go to Graduate School After Undergraduate Degree Completion

Bar chart showing percentage of students who selected each reason for not going to graduate school

Going to graduate school right after completing an undergraduate degree is among the many different pathways to a research career. In fact, according to the Data Buddies Survey 2021 data, only about 43% of students who are intending to ultimately get a doctoral degree and 65% of students who intending to ultimately get a master’s degree plan on applying to a graduate program (master’s or doctorate) after graduation.

The graphic here shows the reasons identified by undergraduate students who do not plan to go to graduate school after graduation (regardless of their highest degree plans) for why they are not planning to do so. Students are broken down by their expected year of graduation since it is reasonable to assume that their reasons may vary at different time points throughout their degree programs.

Analysis reported here shows that the prospect of getting a job is by far the highest rated reason why students do not plan on going to graduate school immediately after completing their undergraduate degree. This was followed by the desire to take a break from school. Interestingly, students who are furthest away from graduating (55%) is more likely to select job prospects as a reason compared to those who are graduating within the next year (45%). In contrast, wanting to take a break from school seems to become more important for students who are close to graduation (41%) than for those who are early on in their degree program (23%).

What to do after completing an undergraduate degree is a question every student is faced with even before they begin their degree. It is a complex decision to make and to understand. This visualization suggests that job prospects weigh heavily on students’ decision to skip or delay graduate education. It also shows that, while some of the reasons remain the same across students at different stages of their degree program, others vary in terms of their salience depending on how close students are to graduating.


  • The CRA Data Buddies Survey 2021 collected data from 12,720 undergraduate students. 9,524 of this sample responded to the question about their plans immediately after completing their current degree. 7,090 students did not select going to graduate school as one of their options. Responses from 6,800 students who responded to the follow-up question regarding why they are not planning on going to graduate school and are graduating between 2022-2025 are displayed in this graphic.
  • The full list of reasons available for selection included: I am considering a job, I wanted to take a break from school, I was worried about financial support, I do not see the value in it, I have personal and/or family obligations, I had not considered it, It takes too long to complete, I think school is too difficult, I have already earned the highest degree I plan to attain, I did not feel academically prepared, I am currently earning the highest degree I plan to attain, I am not interested in getting another degree, Other.

horizontal CERP logoThis analysis is brought to you by the CRA’s Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline (CERP). CERP provides social science research and comparative evaluation for the computing community. Subscribe to the CERP newsletter here. Check out CERP’s activities and find out how to engage on CERP’s website.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number (DUE 1821136). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.