June 8, 2018
Graduate school is a serious step, maybe a giant leap. Students or working adults who are considering grad school need to know: while it is a worthwhile endeavor, grad school may not be right for everyone. Every person has to consider graduate school in connection to their career and life goals.
It’s very possible to advance in your career with an undergrad degree alone, but careers in some fields like psychology, law, medicine, and academia require a minimum of a master’s degree. Consequently, for some students, there is no choice in the matter. This is unfortunate as higher education is financially straining, and the expenses may not change any time soon.
As a prospective student, you do have a say in when to start graduate school and how much time to dedicate to a program. Some programs can be completed within a year or two. However, in programs with a thesis or research project, grad school can last several years.
One common fear from students is that they will be academically rusty if they wait too long for graduate school. This is a valid fear, but as a fear, should be viewed in comparison to the reality.
You first have to tally up all your financial and familial obligations. If you find that you don’t have many, it may make sense to continue with your education.
Next, consider time. You have to prepare to take grad school tests and submit applications in your senior year of college. If your program doesn’t start for a few months or you apply late, then you also need to figure out what to do with that gap. Read online about other students’ experiences with attending grad school early, or get connected to a graduate student personally.
Going to graduate school right after undergrad means you will be on a tight schedule. Don’t leave everything to your senior year and start learning about graduate programs. The options will vary by state. New Jersey, for example, recently opened up several part-time options for grad students. Some states also have great online programs, and you should look into these two. For a handy resource on choosing the right college for you, check out the College Mouse college finder resource, which lists over 6,000 accredited colleges offering nearly 130 different majors. You can also check out online college rankings such as the one compiled by U.S. News (see 2017 ranking).
If you tallied up your family and financial obligations, or are exhausted with college, waiting is fine. There’s no shame in it. Take a closer look at your resume, your accomplishments, and your network.
Based on your individual circumstances, you may find that graduate school needs to go on pause. The important thing is to be honest. Define the “pause” or “break.” If you have major responsibilities now, you will still have responsibilities five or ten years from now. Distinguish between “not for me” and “not for me right now.”
Postponing graduate school can actually increase your chances of admission. For one, you will have more time to prepare. Additionally, in cases of low test scores or low GPA average, years of relevant work experience can boost your application. Work may also be more satisfying to you than time in school.
The time away from school means you can focus on saving money for graduate school or start paying off student-debt. Deal with one debt at a time.
Some employers also offer tuition assistance to their employees after a certain amount of time with the company or organization. It’s worthwhile to check out those employers or ask potential employers about their education programs.
Finally, be aware that graduate school doesn’t have to be full-time or even on-campus. Whether you decide to take on graduate school within the next year or the next five years, there are options for you.
There’s no shame in saying no to grad school. Take a closer look at your resume, your accomplishments, and your network. Do you really need another degree?
You may find that the costs of grad school would not outweigh your career prospects. There’s no need to accumulate more student debt. Make sure to research your field to find out what people in the field are actually earning, as opposed to hoping to earn the most.
Don’t do graduate school for the prestige. Graduate school should be undertaken if it’s a necessity for a chosen career path. Think very deeply and ask yourself the hard questions about what you are after in life.
Graduate school programs are designed to be flexible and the course load isn’t as heavy as undergrad. Fewer classes are a great match for busy schedules; though, this doesn’t mean the work gets easier. Be prepared to face challenges academically.
Ultimately, the choice and timeline for graduate school will depend on your unique circumstances. Make the choice and own it.