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Climbing That Ladder: Will Graduate School Help on Capitol Hill?

Too cool for graduate school? How graduate school affects Capitol Hill job prospects (CQ Roll Call File Photo).
Too cool for graduate school? How graduate school affects Capitol Hill job prospects (CQ Roll Call File Photo).

Got ambition? Plenty of high-ranking Capitol Hill staffers once started answering the phones and answering mail (even before there was email … back when dinosaurs roamed the earth). But take a look at any resume stack and graduate school comes up quite a bit. So just how helpful is that graduate degree on Capitol Hill? Hill Navigator discusses:

Q. I am currently a staff assistant, a post at which I’ve been at for 5 months and I’m looking for ways to advance my career for the long term, I’m considering going to grad school. I’ve looked at various DC area masters programs like [Graduate School of Political Management] and [Johns Hopkins University] and they offer great opportunities, but they’re very expensive and I will probably have to take a student loan out; is graduate school really gonna give me a major leg up on the Hill? Also what’s your opinion on graduate certificates and are they valued on the Hill?

Hello, staff assistant — arguably one of the best positions to be in to advance your career on Capitol Hill. If you’re looking to get ahead, here is some fail-safe advice for you: Work hard, do good work, connect with other people and bide your time for the right opportunity.  

But wait, that is not exactly your question, is it? You want to know about graduate school and graduate certificates. Perhaps that might help your resume zoom to the top of someone’s inbox, or entice your office to give a promotion?  

In a survey of House chiefs of staff, nearly half had advanced degrees. Approximately 40 percent of legislative directors and senior legislative assistants did as well, according to the 2010 House Compensation Survey. Only 13 percent of staff assistants had an advanced degree, likely an outsized percentage compared to most entry-level administrative positions.  

So while you would be in good company with your advanced degree on Capitol Hill, education alone might not distinguish your resume, and it certainly is less likely to trump Capitol Hill or relevant legislative experience.  

But this does not mean you should shy away from more schooling. Graduate school is a sound investment if you want to study something specific or to broaden your education. Graduate school will increase your network , improve your reading, writing and research skills and likely lead to increased job opportunities.  

What it will not do — on its own — is guarantee a job on Capitol Hill. If that is where you want to be, you are in luck! You are already there. You have an opportunity now with your current position, and you should maximize it.  

And a quick PSA from Hill Navigator: If graduate school is what you want to do, please be quite sure of it before taking out student loans . Students who take out loans while working on Capitol Hill are not eligible for repayment status until they have graduated (or dropped out).  

Good luck!  

Have a question for Hill Navigator? Email or use our submission form. All queries will be treated anonymously. Follow Hill Navigator on Twitter and Facebook. Or, get Hill Navigator delivered to your inbox by signing up on the right hand sidebar under “SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL.” (Recommended!)
Related Links:

Hill Staffer Student Loan Perk Comes With Caveats

Student Loan Forgiveness for Staff on Chopping Block

Double Duty: Graduate School and Capitol Hill

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