Why Go to Graduate School?
Deciding whether to attend graduate school is a decision that requires some careful thought and is one that should not to be made lightly. There are several questions that you can ask yourself to assist you in this process.
- Do I really enjoy the field enough to obtain an advanced degree? Do you know which field you'd like to pursue? Going to graduate school usually involves a career choice. You really need to be enthused in this career area to be able to keep up with the demands and intensity of graduate life. Take some time to investigate your field of interest before applying. Talk to alumni or professors in the field and read resources on the subject.
- Is an advanced degree required to enter a particular profession or obtain a certain level within the field? In many professional fields such as medicine, law, psychology, and education, an advanced degree is a must. For others, a graduate degree can enhance your earning power in an occupation and can influence how far and fast you will advance in your field. Most human service fields are examples of this. Your chances of obtaining increased responsibility in your job will be enhanced through obtaining an advanced degree.
- Do I have the financial resources to cover the cost of graduate school? You may feel you need to take a couple of years off to work to save money for graduate school. Many graduate students, though, are able to cover all or a substantial amount of the cost with grants, fellowships or assistantships. And, of course there are loans. Make sure you investigate these options before deciding you don't have the financial means. Remember also, that most fellowships are competitive, based on academic merit and are awarded early.
- Am I burned out academically and do I need to take some time off? Take some time to assess your energy level. Do you have the motivation to stay in school for one to seven more years? You may need to take some time off to discover yourself and/or gain some work experience. Many students find that after taking time off to work, they are better prepared academically for graduate school and have clearer defined goals. They also find that they have a better perspective on life in general and they have the energy to invest themselves in their education. Taking time off can also give you the information needed to determine exactly what program you need for a particular field. In addition, some graduate schools don't like to accept students without some prior work experience. (This is true of many MBA programs.)
- Am I postponing some tough decisions by going to graduate school? Make sure you are deciding to go to graduate school for the right reasons. Some students feel tempted to continue their education because they don't feel ready to face the demands of real life or aren't clear on what career they want to pursue. These are exactly the reasons not to go to graduate school. Some programs that incorporate internships and work-related experiences into the program do serve as a good transition period from college to work life. You need to be clear on your goals before committing the time and expense.
- Do I want to go to school full-time or part-time?
Going to graduate school full-time is a more intensive process and allows you to interact with the colleagues in your program at a closer level. Some programs require that you go full-time and it may be difficult or not possible to get some types of financial aid without attending full-time. Attending school part-time, though, does allow you the chance to work in the field, earn money and complete your degree during a longer time period. Another option may be able to work in an organization that is willing to foot the bill for graduate school.
- Do I have the personal qualities and skills that are needed to be successful in graduate school?
Although there is no ideal profile for the successful graduate student, there are some qualities that are important in order to make it through productively. Some of these skills include intelligence, initiative and self-discipline. Most graduate programs assume that students will maintain at least a 3.0 GPA. Time management skills, being focused and persistent are also important qualities. In addition, the ability to establish good working relationships with your fellow students, faculty and internship mentors are also important.