To Move On or Stay Put: Earning a graduate degree where you earned your bachelor's degree

Should I stay or should I go?

By Ann van der Merwe
If you are considering graduate school and you are currently attending a small liberal arts college, you will inevitably be looking at other institutions. If you have the opportunity to earn a master’s degree from your undergraduate institution, however, you might be wondering if staying at the same school is a good idea or a bad one. The same holds true for those transitioning from master’s level work to a doctoral program.
The answer is maybe…and maybe not.
First and foremost, find out what is typical in your field. Some master’s programs can be completed in a single year and are even designed to complement the undergraduate program at that institution. Similarly, some master’s and Ph.D. programs are strongly linked; it is generally expected that students will complete both degrees as an education sequence, and students who enter the Ph.D. portion of the sequence with a master’s degree from another institution may be required to repeat some of their coursework.
In many disciplines, however, the norm is to earn each degree at a different institution. So, you should consider the standard protocol for your area of study.
The pros and cons
There are good reasons to deviate from what is typical, of course. Ultimately, you should contemplate what you need most as you continue your education and where you can find it. If you feel a lengthier relationship with one or more of your current faculty mentors would be beneficial, then staying put might be a good option. This may be especially true if you have begun working with someone relatively late in your program and feel you could learn a great deal more from them with continued study.
On the other hand, if you have already been working with the same person for some time, even if the relationship has been a very good one, you may benefit more from someone else’s perspective on your progress. The same holds true for other aspects of your education, from research resources to course offerings. Ask yourself which option – staying or leaving – will enable you to grow the most.
You should also factor personal preferences and needs into your decision. If you truly want to be in a specific location, for example, don’t ignore that desire. Only you can know whether such things should take precedence over other factors, but everyone should at least take them into account. Choosing a graduate program is, after all, a decision that affects all aspects of your life. Even a program with excellent educational opportunities may not be the best choice if it means sacrificing something else important to you.
Lastly, if you find yourself struggling with the decision, seek advice from those who have followed the paths you are considering. They can offer more specific insights into the pros and cons of their experience. Good luck!
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Ann van der Merwe is a singer and music historian based in southwest Ohio. She holds a B.M. in music performance and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in music history.
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