Is Graduate School for Me?

Why You Should Not...or Should Go to Grad School

Everyone has probably fantasized at one time or another about what it would be like to have the title “Dr.” before his or her name, but only a select group of people actually makes that rite of passage and rightfully so. To put it mildly, graduate school is intense and requires an extreme amount of time, money, and commitment. The fact is that many people are so dazzled by the façade of what they think a doctoral degree is that they are shocked when they actually enter the world of academia to pursue that degree. Sadly, many of these students drop out sooner or later, and the only thing they have to show for their troubles is a substantial amount of debt. So where did they go wrong? Surely, there had to be something wrong with them, right? Well, the truth is that most of them are intelligent, reasonable individuals who simply wanted to get into graduate programs for the wrong reasons. Here are a few thoughts for you to consider to help you decide “Should I go to graduate school?"

Why You Should Not Go to Graduate School

Some people start applying to graduate programs because they are having trouble finding a job or because they don’t like their current job and think that having a graduate degree will help them land a better one. This is not guaranteed. This is also in line with those who enter graduate programs because it will look good on their resumes. Graduate school is far too large a commitment just for a line on a piece of watermarked paper. If you’re looking for additional skills to list on your resume, consider signing up for a workshop or some other form of training instead of a 5- to 7-year program. Another reason why you should not apply to graduate school is if you are doing it because you enjoy school and you are “good at it.” Of course, you should love what you study, but just because you’ve done well as an undergrad does not mean that you are cut out for graduate study. Unfortunately, if you choose to enter graduate programs for one of the reasons above, you could end up dropping out.

You should also never go to graduate school because you want to prove something to someone else or because you don’t know what else to do. Graduate programs are not games. If you are thinking about going to graduate school for one of those two reasons in particular, you should forget it.

Why You Should Go to Graduate School

The best reason to go to graduate school is because it is necessary for your desired field (e.g., law, medicine, psychology). It’s true that an advanced degree can also help you earn more money, but that’s further down the road. Graduate school will require a lot of hard work and dedication, but if you start with a clear vision of how your graduate degree will help you achieve your career goals, then you are on the right track. 

Should I Go Straight into Grad School or Work First?

Many undergraduates who are considering grad school often wonder if they should go straight into graduate school or work for a few years beforehand. The simple answer to this question is that you will have to decide which option is best for you, whether it be graduate school or work. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. Below are some factors to consider when you are trying to decide between graduate school or work and whether you should go directly from an undergraduate program to a graduate program.

Going Straight Into a Graduate Program

Some students think it is easier to go straight into graduate programs after they have completed their undergraduate programs. These people often feel as though they are in the swing of school and worry that if they stop school for a period of time, they will have more difficulty starting again. You might also find it is easier to start a graduate program directly after your undergraduate program because recent graduates typically do not have as many responsibilities (e.g., partners, children, etc.) as they would later in life. Additionally, starting a graduate program right away means that you will be done with graduate school sooner and will be able to start working toward your career sooner.

There are a few drawbacks to going straight into a graduate program. If you lack experience in your chosen field prior to starting graduate school, you might not know for sure if you have chosen a field that you will really enjoy. Another drawback of going straight into a graduate program is that some graduate programs like their students to have some prior work experience, so lacking that experience might weaken your application.

Working First

There are advantages to working in the field for a few years prior to applying to graduate school. First, work experience can give you a better understanding of yourself and of whether or not the field you have chosen is a good fit for you. Additionally, work experience can strengthen your applications.
 
However, some individuals note that it is more difficult to return to school after many years because their academic skills have gotten “rusty,” making the transition into graduate school even more difficult.  Another disadvantage to working before graduate school is that your amount of personal responsibilities tends to increase with age; therefore, the older you are when starting a graduate program, the more responsibilities you will likely have outside of school.  The final disadvantage to working before graduate school is that the longer you wait to start your degree, the longer it will take you to finish your degree.

Regardless of the decision you make between graduate school or work, make sure that you have taken the time to consider all of these factors. If you are determined to continue your education, ask those who are currently in grad school what they have done, and whether they would do the same given the chance again. Older adults obviously have the most experience; gauge their opinions on the question of academia or industry. Graduate school or work after your first degree are both daunting in their own right, but knowing that you have made the right decision will allow you to dive in to the next few years without regret.

The Next Step: Should I Go to Graduate School?

You’re nearly there! You’ve aced most of your undergrad classes already and are beginning to count the credit hours until your graduation. However, perhaps you’re a student who isn’t satisfied with having only a Bachelor’s degree. You have a hunger for knowledge and more drive than most of your classmates, so what’s next? Perhaps you have asked yourself “Should I go to graduate school?” The application process for graduate school often takes a minimum of one year to complete, so if you are interested in graduate school, you should already be thinking about graduate school. Deciding whether or not to go to graduate school is a huge decision, and you should consider several factors as you weigh the question “Should I go to graduate school?”

Analyzing Yourself

You know what kind of student you are. Do you make out a schedule of the semester’s tests and projects, color coding for each of your classes? Or do you wait for one of your friends or the professor to remind you two days before the due date? Do you attack studying as an athlete trains every day? Or do you prefer to condense everything into an all-nighter and fall asleep during the test? To survive graduate school, you must be a student who loves to learn and who will devote your mind to all the pressures and challenges your classes and professors will bring. You should be a student who accepts due dates and sets small goals that contribute to larger goals. Most importantly, you should be a student who will make studying the number one priority in your life. If you care more for spending time with family and friends or working hard in your current position than for devoting all your time to studying, then graduate school might not be the right choice for you right now.

Analyzing Graduate School

Besides the obvious increase in the level of difficulty, graduate school is very different from undergraduate school. Undergraduate school is full of students who just want to pass a class and get a degree. Graduate school is full of students who genuinely care about their fields of study and want to devote their working lives to applying their degrees. Undergraduate classes are often in large lecture halls in which professors lecture students with PowerPoint slides. Graduate classes are often condensed into small groups working toward one research goal or learning how professors teach by becoming Teaching Assistants. Undergraduate classes involve tests, essays, and group projects. Graduate classes involve all of theses in addition to theses, dissertations, teaching, and research—not to mention comprehensive exams. Regardless of initial feelings, you should consider all of these preferences before ultimately answering “Should I go to graduate school?”

Graduate School: Just How Expensive is it?

The cost of graduate school varies widely depending on your field, area of study, and location, among other factors. When comparing schools and determining your budget, make sure you take all expenses into consideration and not only focus on tuition. Here are a few suggestions to help you out.

Tuition

Tuition is typically your biggest expense of the cost of graduate school. Law students can pay $11,000 to $52,000 in tuition each year, and business students can pay anywhere from $2,000 to $70,000 per year. Yearly tuition for medical schools can range between $8,000 and $72,000, and first-year students in dental school may pay between $6,000 and $72,000. A lot of elements determine the price of graduate school tuition, such as reputation, accreditation, placement services for students, and more. Also, keep in mind that private schools may be more expensive than are public schools, and in-state tuition is often much cheaper than what you pay if you live out of state. The cost of graduate school programs online also fluctuates, but these prices typically include the entire program up through graduation, as opposed to per-year pricing for traditional programs. Online graduate programs can range from approximately $12,000 to $147,000.

Textbooks and Supplies

It is important to remember that textbooks and other supplies are often not included within schools’ tuition rates. Lab fees, tools, books, and other materials could cost you anywhere from around $5,000 to over $15,000 per year. Research expenses may also come up, particularly in your last year, and could cost up to about $3,000, depending on your school and program.

Living Expenses

While in graduate school, you will also have to pay your own general living expenses, such as room, board, and transportation.  The cost of rent, mortgages, car payments, and other amenities depends on your individual needs.  If you are not employed while you are in school, you may also need to consider purchasing your own health insurance or, if offered, paying for health insurance through your school.  Health insurance could cost several thousands of dollars per year.  Don’t forget your other monthly expenses, such as your cell phone bill and internet service, which could become very important if you are considering online graduate programs.

To find out how expensive the cost of graduate school will be for you, try itemizing each expense in a spreadsheet. Recall that graduate school requires an incredible time commitment, so if you are currently employed, you may have to reduce your number of hours to handle your coursework. Consider this when determining what your expected income will be while you are in graduate school and if you will need to investigate scholarship, grant, stipend, and loan options. Having a better understanding of your specific potential cost of graduate school may help you find a graduate school which is better suited to your budget.

Your Next Career Move: Is It Time to Go Back to School?

You’ve graduated with your Bachelor’s degree and have taken a few steps up the corporate ladder. Despite your successes in the corporate world, you have lately been wondering whether going back to school for a master’s or PhD would be a better long-term decision. If this is what you are thinking, then you should ask yourself several questions before you even apply for graduate school. Why do you want to go to back to school, and what are you trying to accomplish by considering graduate student life?

Many people revisit the academic world and graduate student life for the wrong reasons. If you are simply bored with your current situation, there are definitely many infinitely cheaper hobbies to pick up instead of a bill for graduate school. If you are looking to impress your boss or other coworkers, there are easier ways to do that as well. If you believe that having a higher degree will increase your salary and/or earn you a promotion, you should do some diligent research to find out whether this is indeed the case.

There are several sites that report the average income of certain professionals, including the salaries of those with a Bachelor’s and those with a more advanced degree. Keep in mind that several careers value relevant experience instead of education. Look around your office to see what types of degrees are benefitting your coworkers. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to your employers about your decision! Your employers have a good idea about how another degree will affect your professional outlook. If having an advanced degree is important for your profession, many large companies will give you time off to take classes, or even pay for your education! However, remember that companies budget money far in advance of when the money is spent. Therefore, if you know it might help you financially, you should let your supervisors know that you plan to go to graduate school a good semester or year ahead of when you actually start. 

If you are thinking about going back to school for graduate study, you should consider the cost of graduate school. How does your desire to have the degree compare to the cost of the degree? After you get a graduate degree, will you work hard to make sure that your money eventually comes back around in the form of a higher salary? If you had asked yourself these questions and still feel like going to graduate school is the right choice for you, then you should compare graduate school programs around your location. Visit the campus, take in the local graduate student life, and talk to a few professors in your potential school of study before making any decisions. Finally, weigh your lifestyle against the time requirements for graduate school. Do you have time to go back to school? Will your family and employer be encouraging and patient towards your graduate student life? Pursuing a graduate degree is a major decision, so be sure to consider all the angles before you make the plunge.

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