Written by Kerry Auge, for GradSchools.com, March 2014
Making the decision to go to graduate school is huge. Your best bet in securing your success will be to do some serious soul searching before you take the plunge into many months of hard work, financial strain and serious time management. Here are a few questions to help you with your thinking along the way.
Why do I want to do this?
It’s important to know what’s motivating you. Are you trying to change careers, make more money or satisfy your ego? Like most people, your desire to obtain a graduate degree is probably the result of many factors. The important thing is to get to the bottom of what it is that is really motivating you. Once you have that understanding, make sure that the overall time, effort and money you will need to put forth in the next couple of years is worth the satisfaction.
What do I want to get out of this?
Have a clearly defined end-goal. There is a very real chance that the process of attending a graduate program will completely change your interest and direction moving forward, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a clear one before you start. If you’re not sure what you want to do and you are attending grad school to help figure that out, take your best stab at it and make that your end goal. You will be much more motivated and focused if you are working toward a clear and distinct result instead of letting the experience move you in any given direction.
How am I going to pay for this?
It would be great if going to graduate school wouldn’t be such a significant cost, but the reality is that unless you are already wealthy, you will be hard pressed to find a program that won’t be a financial game changer. Have a clear understanding of how you are going to pay for your graduate degree and make sure it is worth the cost.
How am I going to arrange my schedule to accommodate this additional burden?
It’s so easy to think we are going to be really motivated and disciplined with our time once we start the program. Unfortunately most of us don’t really don’t change our habits that easily. If you do not have a few extra hours in your day right now, you are going to need to rearrange your schedule to allow for the added time needed to get your degree. Make sure you have given significant thought to how you are going to accomplish the added workload without sacrificing your sanity. It is not going to bring out your best work or your best self if you have no time for sleep, self-care, family and friends.
Am I fully committed to this?
Take a good inventory of your commitment level. Are you wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the upcoming years in graduate school? What would sway your decision not to go at this point in your life? You want to set-up a situation in which you will succeed so do a thorough check on your level of commitment.
Do I have the right attitude?
Attitude is everything. If you are going forward with the right one, you will undoubtedly succeed and you are just as likely to fail with the wrong one. Moreover, your attitude is a good check on your level of commitment and motivating factors. If you are motivated by the right reasons and fully committed, chances are you will have a good attitude about it. If you felt comfortable with your motivations and commitment level in the previous questions yet are kind of negative when you think of the upcoming months of school, you may want to dig a little deeper to ensure your plan is well aligned with your deepest self.
Am I being realistic?
The importance of how realistic you are in answer to the above questions can’t be undervalued and don’t trust yourself alone to judge this. Find a neutral party that you trust who will give you an honest opinion about how realistic you are being. Don’t pick someone that has skin in the game. If your spouse doesn’t want you to go back to school because of the financial burden or your parent thinks your dream of becoming a psychologist is a little far fetched, they are not good people to ask. Reach into your network of mentors and ask for an opinion. Chances are you will feel supportive but may uncover some of the weaknesses in your thought process. If you are really committed, this will only serve to help you put together a stronger and better plan.
About the Author: Kerry Auge is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in business.