Even with a strong undergraduate education, graduate school may still be required to reach your goals. Given the cost of living, tuition, and years of lost income, graduate school is an expensive decision. Understanding your motivation and goals, and how best to reach them, increases your chances of success.
Who should pursue a graduate degree?
There are generally three reasons for graduate school:
• Professional Prerequisite – faculty and research positions at the university level require an advanced degree (e.g. Professor or Research Fellow).
• Career Growth – employers expect a graduate degree or certification for promotion (e.g. Urban Planner or School Principal)
• Intellectual Interest – study of a subject out of curiosity and desire for personal growth (e.g. French Poetry or Philosophy of Religion).
Why should I pursue a graduate degree?
• What are my short and long term goals?
• What doors will graduate school open that I couldn’t open via networking, hard work and independent study?
• What other options could help meet my goals (e.g. part-time or online study)?
• If I change my goals part-way through a program, or after completing a program, what other near-term career or degree options are possible?
What degree should I pursue?
Your goals will determine the right degree. Requirements and time commitments vary significantly. Future professors and researchers may require 5-10 years for a PhD, while programs for career growth could range from a few months (for a certificate) to five years or more for a PhD. In some fields a master’s degree will let you achieve your goals, while in others a doctorate is required. Understanding the optimal (not minimal) requirements to achieve your goals will determine if you should pursue a certificate, masters, doctorate, or even post-doc.
When should I pursue a graduate degree?
There’s no “right time.” Some will begin immediately after college, others will work full-time before graduate school, or attend graduate school part-time while working. Consult with advisors to help frame the decision. Consider your debt load, your personal situation, and whether programs require or prefer relevant work or internship experience. Prior work experience may improve your chances of admissions by compensating for academic weaknesses and showing commitment to your field. Significant unrelated work experience may hurt you if it indicates lack of focus.
Where should I pursue my graduate degree?
This can be the most difficult decision, given the many options, so consider:
• Which format (full-time, part-time or online) will best fit your goals and lifestyle?
• Are you able to relocate to attend graduate school or will you attend locally?
• Are jobs in your field centralized in certain locations? If so, going to school in that area may be an advantage in hiring.
• Which employers recruit from the programs you’re considering?
• Are National or Regional Rankings a consideration, and if so, how do your potential programs rank?
• How does your profile compare to acceptances in recent years?
How do I go about applying to a graduate degree program?
There’s no substitute for thorough research and preparation! Make sure you have mentors and advisors who will help define your goals, suggest relevant graduate programs, and even provide letters of recommendation. Be able to articulate your goals clearly, and describe how your experiences prepared you for success. Since graduate programs tend to be smaller, they are often highly selective about the candidates they accept. Understanding your target programs in detail is critical. Thoroughly prepare for and take all required standardize tests (e.g. TOEFL and GRE), with enough time to retake them if necessary. Also research whether there is any required coursework that you may need to complete prior to applying. Proper preparation increases your chances of success in admissions, graduate school and beyond.
There are many factors in deciding about graduate school. While “education is its own reward”, educated decisions will help you achieve your academic and professional goals. Solicit feedback from your entire network (faculty, peers, family, mentors and professional advisers) to help inform and refine decisions. Then draft the detailed plan and timeline that you will follow to reach your goals.