Graduate school is becoming an increasingly attractive option for many students, if only because it provides a sense of security and purpose in an economic climate that does not. Still, applying to grad school on a whim is ill-advised. So, how do you know when grad school is right for you?
There is one question that tells us 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. Here’s what to keep in mind if you’re considering grad school.
Is Going to Grad School Worth It?
An advanced degree is about more than money. Graduate school provides you with knowledge, skills, a network, and a wider set of career opportunities. Even if you don’t end up using your new degree or working in the field, having it will increase your value as an employee in the future. Preparing for graduate school can start as early as your undergraduate career, or many wait until they’re established in their professional careers before considering graduate school as a way to advance in their field of interest.
Go to grad school if you need:
- A graduate degree for your profession. For example, if you aspire to be a doctor, lawyer or professor, you’ll need graduate credentials.
- Unique intellectual and personal fulfillment. Graduate school is not for the faint of heart. It’s also not the time to figure out what you want to do with your life — ideally, that’s what your undergraduate experience was for. A graduate degree can be empowering, but only if you want to become an expert in one specific field.
- Specialized skills. Some subjects, like physics, involve advanced techniques, theories, and experiments that are best learned in a focused classroom with experienced professors.
- To move up the career ladder. If you’re hungry to increase your earnings and/or be promoted to a leadership position in your organization, a graduate degree can certainly speed things along.
Why Should I Go to Grad School?
Deciding to apply (or not apply) to grad school takes a great deal of self-reflection and should not be rushed. Although a weak economy may prompt your grad school ambitions, it’s important to remember that you are in the driver’s seat. If you need even a little assistance, we’re here to help you find and apply to the right graduate program for you.
Your Field’s 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 realistic knowledge and expectations about your future professional field if you want to make the right career choice.
You Need a Graduate Degree
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 that doesn’t require an advanced degree. A graduate education isn’t a shortcut 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.
You’re Passionate About the Career
Many students consider getting an MBA because they think it would be a solid career choice. But first ask yourself, “Are you passionate about this subject matter?” 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?
Why You Shouldn’t Do a Masters?
While there are a lot of pros to getting a graduate degree, there can also be some cons for students who are not clear about their goals, academic performance, and more. Here’s when a graduate degree might not be a good option for some students.
You’re Not Academically Prepared
One of the most common questions students ask when considering 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 because it tells counselors that their scores or GPAs are marginal, and they would rather get into a graduate program with the minimum preparation, rather than put 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 minimal preparation. Before you can succeed in graduate school, you need a strong academic foundation.
Graduate school might also not be for you if you are adverse to:
- Rigorous, disciplined work, particularly of the academic vein. Again, you’ve got to be committed to your field and your work. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself unhappy, buried under a mountain of problem sets and papers you’d rather not do.
- Lost income during full-time enrollment. Graduate school can take anywhere from two to ten years (depending on the field and degree earned).
- Debt. Many fund graduate school expenses with loans. Unless you have a hefty nest egg to liquidate or win a fellowship or scholarship, you will probably need to take out a loan to make ends meet while you are in graduate school.
- Having limited college options. There is less variety and fewer options for graduate students. Depending on your field of interest, you may have only a handful of programs that fit your intellectual needs. Are you ready to move and live in a different environment to take advantage of a Master of Landscape Architecture program or a degree in Sports Marketing?
At IvyWise we work with students applying to graduate school, including medical, MBA, and law school programs. IvyWise’s graduate consultants can help you find and apply to your best-fit graduate program. Check out how you can get the advantage of graduate counseling.