Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - January 2013
Graduate school requires a commitment of time, money, and energy. Determining the ideal time in your life for pursing a graduate degree is often difficult, however; if you are asking yourself whether or not now is the time for graduate school that may be an sign it is at least an appropriate moment to seriously consider applying to a graduate program.
For individuals in any situation three important factors to consider before applying to graduate school may be motivation,financing, and feasibility.
Defining your motivation for enrolling in a graduate degree program requires you to think about the things you hope to accomplish by earning your graduate degree. These goals will be different for every individual, but having a general understanding of your motivations for pursuing a graduate degree may help you evaluate if getting a graduate degree is the best way of achieving those goals.
Attending graduate school costs money, thinking about the ways you plan to finance your graduate school education is an important step in determining if it is financially possible and responsible to attend graduate school in the near future. Upon inspection you may discover you need to develop a longer term plan to explore scholarship, grant, or assistantship/fellowship options or build up your savings to offset the costs of school.
Determining feasibility entails taking a look at how graduate school will fit into your life, this includes consideration of the amount of time you expect to be in graduate school, and other personal goals you may have such as starting a family or moving to a specific city, state or country. It may also include determining the amount of debt you can reasonably acquire and your current situation in the workplace.
After taking time to think about the factors discussed above you may have a clearer picture of the appropriateness of attending graduate school in the near future and the type of program you would like to apply to. It may also provide a starting point for establishing a plan for success in graduate school.
If you are currently a college student, you might be thinking of going straight to graduate school. Your area of study and your professional goals should help you make this decision. You may want to pursue a graduate degree because it is absolutely required for your intended career path or you may feel a need for more training in your field. These are good reasons to consider immediately enrolling in graduate school following completion of your undergraduate degree.
Some undergraduate programs offer advanced standing graduate programs enabling students to earn a graduate degree by completing 1 additional year of study immediately following completion of their undergraduate education. If your program offers an advanced standing option it may be worthwhile to consider continuing your education without taking a break between your undergraduate and graduate studies.
Even if you are certain graduate school is in your future, it can also be a great idea to get a little real world experience prior to enrolling in a graduate program. Spending some time in the real world may give you a better understanding of the area of research you would like to specialize in as a graduate student or you might want to see how much you really need a graduate degree to follow a particular path.
Assistantships are a great option for students thinking of enrolling in graduate school immediately after earning their undergraduate degree. Earning an assistantship means you may be able go to school without paying tuition. You can also gain valuable work experience. Even though the stipend you receive for that work might not be great, the free education and benefits might outweigh the small amount of pay – especially if you are not already accustomed to a higher salary and you do not to have too many financial demands.
Earning a graduate degree may be a good strategy to help change the course of your career. Even during healthy economic time’s unemployment, underemployment, and job dissatisfaction are causes for concern among the working population. Graduate school may offer individuals the opportunity to network, gain new knowledge and skills, and refocus their career. Graduate school may enhance a person’s current resume helping them gain advancement within an organization or grab the attention of a hiring manager at a new firm. The time and financial commitments of a graduate degree make it important for individuals making the decision to enroll in graduate school to make a full commitment to the process and do everything possible to get the most out of their time in a graduate program.
There is some controversy in the blogosphere about the benefit of graduate school for unemployed individuals concerning whether or not it is a wise decision to take on additional debt during a time of financial hardship, however; while the decision to advance your education is timely and costly it may be a good option for individuals who are truly invested in the idea of gaining more knowledge and expertise in their field or interested in entering into a new career path. Be sure to carefully consider your personal circumstances before enrolling in a graduate program. Carefully weigh the costs and benefits of graduate school against your personal and career objectives and explore a variety of program offerings and formats before making your final decisions.
If you have been working for a while and feel compelled to get more education, see if your employer will pay for you to earn a graduate degree. It isn’t an option in all fields, but it makes even more sense financially than an assistantship; you will be gaining the same work experience while you earn your degree, but you will be getting paid a regular salary rather than a more meager stipend. The downside, of course, is that it can be very demanding on your time. (Assistantships are built for graduate students; most other jobs are not). Still, if you have the motivation to get your school work done in your spare time, it can be a great option.
Some programs are designed especially for working professionals; they might not be tuition-free, but they might enable you to earn your degree quickly enough that the out-of-pocket cost to you will be manageable. For example, summer programs are increasingly available for teachers who wish to earn a master’s degree. They can go to school full-time while they are not working and thereby finish the degree in just one or two summers. Evening programs are also popular in a number of fields. You might need more time to complete one, but you can probably afford the monthly part-time tuition if you are still working.
Individuals who plan to work full time while attending graduate school should also find out if the graduate program they are interested in has any field work, research, travel or practicum/internship requirements. These requirements may affect a person’s ability to work at their current job during normal office hours and may create additional time constraints. Discuss any potential conflicts with a school advisor and your work supervisor in advance to determine the feasibility of completing this type of educational requirement while maintaining a full time job.
If working and going to school at the same time seems like too much of a time commitment, you might want to consider taking some time off for full-time study. This is an especially good idea if you are thinking of some sort of change in your path. It will undoubtedly mean a financial sacrifice, though you can still benefit from an assistantship or fellowship as well as from your own personal savings.