Transitioning from College to Graduate School
Ready. Set. Go. Undergrad to grad student
by Stephanie Small
Published March 3, 2011
It’s April of your senior year. All around you, your peers are freaking out. They’ve mailed fleets of cover letters and heard only crickets. Their attempts to milk their parents’ connections – my mom’s college roommate’s doorman’s cousin’s armadillo’s pet sitter used to work at Pixar! – yield only the sound of tumbleweed blowing past in the wind. Some of them think they’ll go to New York City and paralegal, to see if they want to go to law school, and your favorite drinking buddy plans to be a ski bum in Vail for a few years before the real world reels her back in. The rest are a mishmash of moving in with the ‘rents and job searching.
But you? You’re chillin’ like a villain’ – because you’ve already applied to, and been accepted at, the graduate school
of your dreams. You’ve got a summer to relax, digest your college experience, and prepare for your next educational endeavor. You won’t have to think about the “real world” for two to eight years, depending upon your scholastic path.
But then you get hit with a pang of doubt. You’re looking around at all your friends who are about to jump in to the adult life, and you’re feeling weird about your choice. They’re going to be earning their own salaries, and aside from work, their time will be their own. They won’t be accruing debt (at least tuition-wise) and they won’t be writing papers. Should you, too, be “getting out there”, earning some experience in the “real world”? Suddenly, you feel as though you just extended your stay in college two to eight years. In some ways that sounds fun, but isn’t it kind of refusing to grow up?
If you’re struggling with this dilemma, read on for some words of wisdom from students who “went straight through” – and are unequivocally glad they did.
Career-focused or confused
It’s a common assumption that people enroll in graduate school because they’re crystal-clear about their career path. Dr. Matthew Reddy is one such individual. He began his studies at National College of Naturopathic Medicine immediately following his graduation from University of Colorado at Denver. “I knew what I wanted to do as a career and didn't see the need to wait to get started,” he says.
But others undertake graduate studies for the opposite reason: they’d rather delay their entry into the work force until they know in what direction they’re headed. Lindsay Siegle, who received her Master’s in Public Administration
from the University of Delaware, explains, “I wasn't sure what niche I saw myself in and I knew I was extremely interested in the nonprofit world and healthcare. I decided to apply to broad graduate programs that would provide me with a general foundation applicable to many settings. This also afforded me the opportunity to concentrate in areas of interest.”
Keeping the flow
It’s much easier to stay in the student groove if you don’t take a break in the working world. Rebecca Doctrow is in the process of obtaining her Master’s in Sports Administration
from New York University. She says that while she’s accustomed to the work, “a lot of people in my classes took several years off and are having trouble remembering effective ways to take notes and study.” Siegle adds “the transition was extremely smooth for me. I knew I was the type of person (for whom) it would be a lot more difficult to go back to school after being away from the classroom,” and Reddy agrees “that going right into it kept me in the flow of being a student.”
Nope. Not one interviewee referred to the benefits of hindsight, wishing they had sampled the work force before returning to the hallowed halls of academia. “I was pretty focused on just going straight through. I didn't know what else I would have done, so more school was logical. In all, I'm glad I did it straight through,” Reddy says. Siegle, who was offered a full ride and graduate assistantship with a stipend, explains that “it’s very difficult to turn down a free Master’s education.” Doctrow, too, states she’s glad she went straight through: “I think that it would have been very hard to motivate myself to go back to school once I started working.”
…And it’s not just more college
Compared to your undergraduate education, graduate school is “faster paced”, says Doctrow. “Professors expect a lot of work to be done.” Siegel adds that “you are expected to be accountable for your decisions, and there’s a lot less hand-holding. While the support and guidance was there, professors truly challenge you as an individual.” Reddy describes graduate school as “more fun and more rewarding…everyone around you is just as committed as you are to the education and to their future career, so it creates a powerful learning environment.”
If you ask me, going straight from undergrad to grad school sounds challenging and inspirational. Based on these interviews, it looks like graduate school right after college is not a bad call, and may, in fact, be preferable to the workforce.
Stephanie Small is a Boulder-based psychotherapist, holistic nutritionist, and writer with a BA in English from Yale University and an MSW from the Smith College School for Social Work.