Making The Decision

Should you go to graduate school? Many factors weigh into your decision about whether to go to graduate school: How much money, time, and effort will graduate school require from you? What are the benefits that graduate school will provide in terms of increased knowledge, career advancement, or higher salary? The articles in this section will help you analyze the costs and benefits required to make this major decision in your life.

If you decide that graduate school is right for you, you then to determine if you are prepared for graduate school. Answer all the questions in the “Are You Ready for Graduate School?” article to see if you need to take any steps to prepare yourself before applying to graduate school. Be sure to read the articles explaining the difference between graduate school and undergraduate school so you know what to expect when your graduate classes begin.

Grad School: Some Pros and Cons

Are you weighing your options and trying to decide whether to go to grad school? If so, here are some pros and cons for you to consider.

Money

Money is both a pro and a con. The con is that grad school costs a lot of money. Really. Usually, a whole lot of money. On the other hand, once you are done with grad school, you may be able to command a higher salary for the rest of your career. So some questions to ask yourself:

  • If money is your primary purpose for going to graduate school, are you entering a field in which an advanced degree makes a big difference?
  • Do you have enough years between now and retirement to earn back the money you spend on graduate school?

Prestige

People with advanced degrees often automatically receive more respect, both personally and professionally.

Job options

With an advanced degree, you may be able to get a better job, not just in terms of salary but also in terms of working conditions. On the other hand, you may hear that you are ‘overqualified’ for some jobs.

Learning

Are you a person who loves learning and just wants to immerse yourself in learning all you can about your field? Do you enjoy writing, reading, and research? Then put learning down in the ‘pro’ column of graduate school for you.

Time

Graduate school costs you in time and energy as well as in money. It takes at least a couple of years to get a master’s degree and another couple years for a doctorate – and that’s if you’re going to school full-time.

If you have a family, you also have to consider the amount of time you are going to spend away from them and the number of special events you might miss.

Should You Go To Graduate School?

If you’re reading this, you are at least considering going to graduate school. Maybe you are still working on your undergraduate degree and trying to decide what to do next. Or maybe you have been out in the work force for a while and are considering a new career or increasing your skills in your current career. Whatever your stage in life, there are some very good reasons for attending graduate school:

  • You are looking for a higher salary.
  • You want to teach at the college level.
  • You need a graduate degree to be licensed in your field.
  • You need a graduate degree to advance in your profession.
  • You simply want to learn more.
  • You are not ready to leave school.
  • You want to switch to a new profession.

Of course, there are also good reasons not to go to graduate school:

  • If you are already working full-time, it can be hard to either quit work and go back to school (especially if you’re earning a good salary) or to try to juggle work and school at the same time.
  • Graduate school is expensive and less funding is available. Will the extra salary you earn with an advanced degree offset the student loans you may have to take out?
  • Graduate school takes a lot of time: usually two years for a master’s degree and four years for a doctorate.
  • Graduate school takes a lot of work. It is more focused and intense than undergraduate work, and you have to be disciplined and dedicated.

Only you can decide when or if you should go to graduate school. If you aren’t sure, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you skilled at reading, writing, and researching? You will be spending a lot of your time in grad school doing just these tasks, and it will be easier if you are good at them – and even more so if you actually enjoy them.
  • Can you make grad school a priority in your life?
  • Can you afford grad school? Are you willing to be poor for a while and then spend the first part of your post-grad-school life paying off student loans?
  • Do you have a solid reason for wanting to go to grad school – a reason that will help you stay focused and dedicated when the workload is overwhelming and exhausting?

Are You Ready For Graduate School?

Have you been thinking about going to graduate school but just aren’t sure whether you should go? Ask yourself some searching questions to help you decide whether you are ready for graduate school.

Why do you want to go to graduate school?

If you are considering going to graduate school because you aren’t sure what else to do, then you probably want to reconsider. Graduate school takes a lot of time and money. If you don’t have a strong reason or purpose for putting in the effort, you may end up dropping out of graduate school.

Will graduate school help you meet my career goals?

Your career may require you to have an advanced degree. Alternatively, an advanced degree may open up opportunities for job advancement for you.

What specific areas interest you?

Graduate school gives you the opportunity to study a specific area in depth. Do you have an idea of the area in which you would like to specialize? Think about your interests and career goals. Different graduate programs emphasize different specialties, so you need to think about potential specialties before you choose the schools to which you want to apply.

Do you have the academic abilities you need to succeed in graduate school?

Graduate school requires a high level of academic commitment. You will spend a lot of time reading, writing, and researching. Do you enjoy these activities? Are you good at them? You may be required to maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average (GPA) in order to even stay in school, much less receive financial aid.

The Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate School

It’s tough to make a decision about going to graduate school if you don’t have a clear idea of what graduate school is like. Just how is graduate school different from undergraduate school? Here are just a few possible differences:

  • Undergraduate school is typically for students who have completed high school and are working toward a college degree. Graduate school, on the other hand, is generally for students who have completed a bachelor’s degree and want to do additional advanced studies in a particular field.
  • Graduate students are expected to have more knowledge and better research skills than are undergraduates.
  • Expectations are higher for graduate students than for undergraduates.
  • Graduate students are more likely than undergraduates to have additional responsibilities, such as families and full-time jobs.
  • Graduate students need background knowledge and experience (gained through undergraduate work, jobs, etc) so they can explore their fields of interests more deeply.
  • Graduate students spend most, if not all, of their classroom time in their major field of study rather than taking a broad range of classes as undergraduate students do.
  • Financial aid for graduate students tends to come more in the form of loans, fellowships, and assistantships. Undergraduate students, on the other hand, have more access to financial aid options such as grants.

Changing Fields of Study

When you decide to pursue graduate studies, you do not necessarily need to continue in the same field as your undergraduate major. You may use your graduate program as an opportunity to explore different academic interests or even to change careers altogether.

If you decide you want to pursue a different field of study for your graduate degree, it is still important that you show aptitude and interest in the new field. The graduate admissions committee needs to see that you:

  • Have at least a basic level of knowledge in the field.
  • Will be able to complete the graduate program.

To demonstrate your capabilities, consider taking some courses in the new field or doing some volunteer work. If possible, get an internship or even an entry-level job. As you complete your application, be sure to highlight the courses and experiences you have had that show your interest and aptitude for the field. Also explain why you want to move to a different field of study and how your background has prepared you for this change. Consider what unique knowledge and experience that you gained during your undergraduate studies will help you contribute to the new field you have chosen. Your goal is to demonstrate that you will be a valuable student and an asset to the profession upon graduation.

Should I Take a Break Before Grad School?

So you know you definitely want to go to graduate school. The only question in your mind is whether to begin graduate school as soon as you complete your undergraduate degree or to take a break first to begin your career and earn some money. Ask yourself these questions to help you make your decision.

What field do you want to enter?

Some careers benefit from immediate graduate work, particularly careers in which advanced degrees are required for work. Such careers include teaching at the college level, social work, medicine, and law.

In other careers, students can benefit from work experience before they begin their graduate work. Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs are an example of a graduate degree in which job experience can be an asset to students, providing experience that can make class work more interesting and relevant.

How much money do you owe?

Are you already in debt from undergraduate classes? If so, you may want to take a few years to pay down your student loans and build up your bank account before you take on the expense of graduate school.

Another financial consideration is whether your employer will pay your graduate school fees. Many employers will pay your tuition for courses that are related to your work.

How committed are you?

Once you get out of the habit of going to school (and in the habit of earning money), you may find it difficult to go back to school. Are you committed enough to furthering your education that you will definitely go back to graduate school? If not, you may want to go straight into your graduate program while you are still in student mode.

Getting Multiple Graduate Degrees

If you’re just considering your first graduate degree, the idea of getting a second advanced degree may be more than you can think of right now. However, it is certainly possible to get multiple graduate degrees, whether a master’s degree and then a doctorate in the same field, two master’s degrees in different fields, etc.

If you already have one graduate degree in hand, you will need to provide both your undergraduate and graduate school transcripts to the admissions committee. Your existing graduate degree will demonstrate that you have the capacity and capabilities for graduate work. In your application, you will need to explain why you want an additional graduate degree and how it fits into your career goals. You will also need to demonstrate how the knowledge and experience you have already gained as a student will benefit you in your new field of study.

If your existing graduate degree is in a field of study completely different from the new degree you wish to pursue, it will be helpful if you can demonstrate an aptitude for the new field before you apply to graduate school. Take a few classes – even non-credit continuing education classes are helpful – or do some volunteer work. This will show the admissions committee your interest in the field and will help you gain valuable background knowledge that will be helpful in graduate school.

Master’s or Doctorate?

You have your bachelor’s degree in hand and are ready to pursue graduate school. Should you aim for a master’s degree or a doctorate? That depends on:

  • How much time, energy, and money you are willing to commit.
  • Your career goal.

Time, energy, and money

A master’s degree generally takes two or three years to complete, and a doctorate program can take four to eight years. On the other hand, more financial aid in the form of fellowships and assistantships is available to doctorate students than to master’s students.

Career goals

Depending on your career, a master’s degree may be the best choice for you. In general, if your goal is to increase your salary or to change careers, a master’s degree is the right option for you.

In fields such as business and social work, for example, a master’s degree may be required and will lead to better job opportunities and higher pay. A doctorate, however, may not be cost-effective: You will spend more money earning the degree than you will reap in a higher salary later. For other careers, such as teaching at the college level, a PhD is required. PhDs are more research-oriented.

If you’re still not sure which type of degree to pursue, ask yourself these questions:

  • What types of jobs do people with master’s degrees and PhDs have in your field?
  • How much will it cost for each degree? How much will you earn after obtaining each degree? Will the increased income be worth the cost?
  • To how many years of schooling are you willing to commit?

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by Enoch Morrison | Last Updated: December 31, 2018