Graduate school can be quite a rewarding experience; there’s no doubt about that. However, it is a decision to make only after much careful consideration.
Before undertaking this substantial commitment, we recommend that you fully introspect on the following four questions:
1. What are your expectations?
A graduate school education is an enormous investment of time, effort and money. And it is most certainly not a silver bullet that will guarantee you unlimited career advancement and personal fulfillment. Accordingly, it should only be undertaken if you feel that the expectations are (a) attainable and (b) worth the investment.
Fields of study such as psychology and pre med pretty much require advanced degrees for advancement. Others, however, do not. (IT is a great example of a field where graduate degrees are generally not considered a significant advantage in the private sector.)
So, if your long-term career goal is to become a US Supreme Court Justice, understand that your chances are still small even if you go to a top school such as Yale. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to law school; it just means you should at least go to law school “with your eyes wide open.”
Of course, non career reasons can enter into this equation as well. So, if you believe you will value the learning experience and look back on it as a positive growth experience, then you will likely feel your expectations are met.
2. Are you willing to do the required work?
Graduate school is significantly different from undergraduate study. You will have fewer classes but with a greater work load and can expect to be asked to do work that is both more intensive and more original.
These smaller class sizes require more active student participation. Participation in more hands-on projects and internships is also the norm as opposed to the exception and, yes, there will still be papers to write and research to be conducted.
Success in graduate school requires all the skills from undergrad plus some additional ones such as initiative, creativity and the people skills to establish and maintain good working relationships with both professors and your fellow students.
3. How will you pay for graduate school?
If you’re like most graduate school students, you will need loans to finance your education in the absence of a full scholarship and stipend. (This type of financial aid is rather typical for Ph.D. students at reputable schools.) If you will need to borrow, do you have a plan for when you will begin repaying the loans, how much will repay and how long you will need to pay off the loans in full? Is there any ‘free money,’ i.e. grants, assistantships, or other support you may qualify for?
4. Is now the right time?
Timing is everything in most facets of life and graduate school is no different. Be sure that your current opportunity costs are not too high for a graduate school education. Are family demands too much right now? What type of career options might you have to turn down to go to grad school right now? These are two of the questions every prospective graduate school applicant should ask.