10 Things You Need to Consider About Grad School
Aug. 5 2015, Published 3:30 a.m. ET
Perhaps you’re a working professional looking to take your career to the next level. Perhaps you’re a rising college senior, debating whether or not higher education is a logical step after graduation. Or, perhaps you’re a recent college graduate, disillusioned with the job market and wondering if a graduate degree will help you get the marketable skills you need.
Whatever your current situation may be, here are some questions you need to consider when it comes to grad school:
1. Why do I want to go to graduate school?
Grad school is a great option if it’s necessary for a position in your desired field, if it will bring more opportunities for advancement, or if it will satisfy your intellectual curiosity (provided you know how you plan to leverage that degree, considering that graduate education is expensive).
If you want to pursue higher education because you want to avoid the job market or are having difficulty job-hunting, then you need to rethink whether or not graduate school is the right option for you. Working, even if it’s in an industry or position that’s outside of your interest, will help you learn and define what you want out of a career. Who knows—you might find a job with enough professional development opportunities and come to the decision that grad school is unnecessary to advance in your field.
If you’re having a tough time job-hunting, stay strong! Be sure to check out the job opportunities listed on Her Agenda.
2. What graduate programs am I interested in?
Do you want to be a teacher? Pursue a Ph.D or a J.D.? Or perhaps you’re interested in an MBA. Whatever is the case, make sure you understand the field you want to enter and whether or not you’re willing to put in the time and effort to work in that profession.
3. Do I have the necessary skills and/or knowledge to excel in those programs?
Most graduate schools expect you to have certain skills and knowledge by the time you attend. Make sure you know what is expected from incoming students. Then, be sure to close the skills gap beforehand, because this will help you avoid playing catch-up later. If you’re an undergraduate student, take courses that will help prepare you for grad school; if you’re a working professional, you can take online classes on places like edX or Coursera.
4. Are there special requirements I need to consider?
Requirements generally vary, depending on the school, degree program, or both. You’ll need to carefully review the admissions requirements for each school you’re interested in attending.
5. Where do I see myself in the future, and how will graduate school help me with my future career goals?
It’s important to start thinking about these questions now. Let’s face it: graduate school is expensive, so you need to plan how you will leverage your future graduate degree. Maybe you see yourself as a doctor—so, going to medical school is a no-brainer. But, if you want to get a Master’s Degree in English Literature—think about how this specialty will help you in the long run and open future career opportunities.
6. What are my prospects like after graduate school?
“It’s too early to start thinking about this!” Not true. In fact, this question should help you as you decide which schools to apply to. Take a look at each graduate program’s website and find out how successful its graduates are at finding jobs, how long it took them to find a job after graduating, and where they are currently working. As a bonus, this will give you ideas as to how alumni are leveraging their degrees!
7. Am I financially prepared for graduate school?
For many, the financial repercussions of graduate school are huge! You need to factor in tuition, books, and living expenses. When it comes to preparing financially for higher education, the first thing you think about is looking into scholarships and loans.
Something else to consider is paying off any credit card debt you owe. It’s important that you work to improve credit score, as having bad credit can disqualify you from certain loans or get you a higher interest rate. And lastly, get smart about saving money and cutting down unnecessary expenses!
8. What standardized tests do I need to take? What will it cost me, in terms of time and effort? How long do I need to study before I can take the test(s)?
For your desired program(s), do you have to take the GRE? The LSAT? MCAT? GMAT? Whatever exam you plan to take, you need to evaluate what it will cost you. First, understand your study habits—do you need instruction, or will you be able to self-study and stick to a strict schedule?
If you need more instruction, you’ll have to look into prep companies that offer the environment best suited to you—either a classroom experience, 1-on-1 tutoring, or an adaptive online learning tool. At the same time, look at your current situation: with your workload, how often can you realistically study per day? How long do you think it would take before you are comfortable to take the real test?
And lastly, in addition to the cost for prepping (both time and money), you need to factor in the cost to take the actual exam itself (multiple times, if necessary)! Then based on your personal audit, set up a schedule and stick to it!
9. Who can I ask for letters of recommendation?
Graduate schools typically ask for 2-3 letters of recommendation. The people you ask should know you well, understand your career goals, have a positive opinion about you, and more importantly—know how to write a good letter!
If you are planning to go to graduate school, start thinking about the individuals you’d like to ask for a recommendation as early as possible—well before you start putting together your application.
10. How much time do I need to apply?
That depends entirely on you and the programs you’re planning to apply for. Start as early as you can, and don’t procrastinate!
Readers! Is there anything you feel I’ve missed? If that’s the case, please comment below!