Is Graduate School for You?

Is graduate school right for you?
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Many undergraduates consider applying to graduate school, at least briefly during their college years. How do you decide if grad school is right for you? You are the only one who can make this decision. It's not a decision to make hastily. Take your time. Consider your options. Most importantly, consider your own skills, abilities, and interests. Honestly evaluating your abilities and interests can be challenging and often uncomfortable.

That said, such evaluations are vital to making a choice you can live with for the next two to seven years. Consider the following questions:

1.  Do I want to go to graduate school for the right reasons?

Students choose graduate school for many reasons, including intellectual curiosity and professional advancement. Some choose grad school because they aren't sure what to do or don't feel ready for a job. These aren't good reasons. Graduate school requires a big commitment of time and money. If you're not sure that you're ready, then it's best to wait.

2.  Will graduate school assist me in meeting my career goals?

Some careers, such as those in medicine, dentistry, and law, require education beyond the bachelor’s degree. A job as a college professor, researcher, or psychologist also requires an advanced degree. Not all careers, however, require a graduate degree. In some cases, experience can substitute for formal education.

In many fields, such as counseling, a master’s degree offers excellent career preparation.

3.  What will I specialize in? What are my interests?

Whereas an undergraduate major is a broad introduction to a given field, graduate school is very narrow and specialized. For example, grad school in psychology requires choosing a specialization such as experimental, clinical, counseling, developmental, social, or biological psychology.

Decide early because your choice determines the programs to which you'll apply. Consider your interests. What courses did you especially like? On what topics have you written papers? Seek advice from professors about the differences among the various specialties in a given field. Inquire about existing employment opportunities for each specialization.

4.  Am I motivated enough to attend school for another two to seven years? 

Graduate school is different from college because it requires a higher level of academic commitment and usually for a longer period of time. You must enjoy and excel at reading, writing, and analyzing information. Speak with professors and graduate students to get a better idea of what's involved in graduate study. Most first-year graduate students are overwhelmed and remark that they had no idea of what they were getting into. Seek a first-year student's perspective for a reality check.

5.  Can I afford to go to graduate school?

Make no doubt about it: graduate school is expensive. Consider whether it is worth the cost.  The cost varies by university. Public universities are less expensive than private, but regardless of institution, you can count on paying $10,000 to $25,000 for public universities and as much as $50,000 per year for private.

Fortunately, most students qualify for some form of financial aid. The first step in applying for financial aid entails completing The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some students wonder if they should work while they attend graduate school, an option that is more feasible in some graduate programs than others. If you decide that you must work during graduate school, take care in selecting your job to ensure that it doesn't interfere with your studies.

6.  Do I have the academic and personal qualities to succeed?

Generally, it is expected that students will maintain at least a 3.0 average during graduate school. Some programs deny funding to students with less than a 3.33 average. Can you juggle multiple tasks, projects, and papers at once? Can you manage time effectively?

Going to graduate school affects the rest of your life. There are both pros and cons to continuing your education. Seek information from multiple sources including the career-counseling center, your family, graduate students, and professors. Take your time with it. Most importantly, trust your judgment and have faith that you'll make the choice that's best for you.