By Erin, IvyWise Graduate Admissions Counselor
There is one question which tells me if a student will succeed in graduate school and in their career thereafter: Have you seriously questioned if graduate school is right for you? Getting an advanced degree will be one of the biggest decisions you will make in your life, both financially and professionally, and if you want to make the right decision, you need to ask the right questions.
Graduate school often crosses the mind of current college students and seasoned professionals alike. Especially in light of COVID-19 and the current economic slowdown caused the the pandemic, many graduating college students are considering the graduate admissions path in order to bypass a stagnant job market. There may be a lot of pressure from peers, family, faculty, or career advisors to go to graduate school as soon as possible – but it’s not always the right answer for everyone. Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering applying to graduate school.
How familiar am I with this field and its professional opportunities?
You would be amazed at how many people invest their time and money getting an advanced degree but who aren’t working in that field — or who are working in their field, but are really unhappy. They got their degree and started working in the field, but realized that they hate the actual work! Why? Because they didn’t have any previous experience in or knowledge of the field prior to graduate school. Maybe they based their perceptions of the field on what they’ve seen in TV or movies, which is almost never accurate. Or maybe they selected a career based on earning potential, but didn’t think about where those careers are based geographically. You need to have a realistic knowledge and expectations about your future professional field if you want to make the right career choice.
Do I really need a graduate degree right now?
A lot of people apply to graduate school immediately after their undergrad because they think it will allow them to skip past entry-level positions. They quickly realize that when applying for jobs after graduate school, their lack of work experience makes them less competitive than their peers, who worked for a few years before applying to graduate school. Even with a graduate degree, they still might have to start with an entry-level (or similar) position which doesn’t require an advanced degree. A graduate education isn’t a short-cut to a higher-level position – without prior work experience, in many fields you still have to work your way up the ladder, even if you have a graduate degree. Graduate school will still be an option for you several years down the line – and you will probably get more out of your graduate school experience if you work in the field for a few years first.
Am I passionate about this field?
Many years ago, I considered getting an MBA because I thought it would be a solid career choice. Someone said to me, “Are you passionate about this subject matter? Because if you’re not, it will be the three most miserable years of your life, and then you probably won’t end up going into business anyway.” You have to be passionate about the subject matter, because you will be immersed in this topic for 60 hours (or more!) a week, for the next 2-3 years. Willpower alone won’t be enough – you truly need to love what you’re studying if you want to be successful. And if you’re not passionate about the subject, do you really want to spend your career doing the same thing?
Am I academically prepared for graduate school?
One of the most common questions I get when counseling clients about graduate school is, “What is the minimum GPA/GMAT/GRE/TOEFL score for this program? Do I meet the minimums?” This sometimes throws up a red flag for me because it tells me that their scores or GPAs are marginal, and they would rather get into a graduate program with the minimum preparation, rather than putting in the effort necessary to improve their candidacy. Minimums exist for a reason: graduate schools want their students to succeed, and if you don’t meet their minimums, you are not prepared to succeed. And if you just barely meet the minimums? Graduate school will likely be a struggle for you, because you’ve only done the minimal preparation. Before you can succeed in graduate school, you need a strong academic foundation.
Of course, there are other considerations when applying to graduate school, but these four are the most important when deciding if graduate school is the right move for you right now. To be a successful applicant to graduate school, and ultimately a successful student and alumnus, the answer to all four of these questions needs to be a resounding YES! If you can’t honestly and enthusiastically respond YES to all of these questions, then graduate school isn’t the best choice for you right now.
This doesn’t mean that graduate school is out of the question. You can attend graduate school at any point in your career, and you can always do more to improve your chances of being admitted to graduate school. And remember, when you strive to improve your candidacy for graduate school, you are also improving your ability to succeed in graduate school and your future career.