Deciding if graduate school is right for you
By Ann van der Merwe
Updated June 2017
For some professions, a graduate degree is required before you can even begin a career. In other industries, it can help you secure a better position or a higher salary. But what if your field does not guarantee these kinds of benefits for more education? Should you still consider graduate school? The answer depends on three factors: money, time, and interest.
First, you should be able to finance your graduate education with little or no debt. Taking out a substantial loan for a degree only makes sense if you are reasonably certain that you will be able to pay it back in a few years with what you will earn as a result. That doesn’t mean you need to have thousands of dollars in the bank, though. Look for programs that offer fellowships or assistantships; most offer tuition remission along with a modest monthly stipend.
Oboist Mezraq Ramli recently completed the Master of Music program at Miami University with only minimal out of pocket costs thanks to a full assistantship. Such opportunities can make a graduate degree, especially one that does not promise immediate financial gain, an affordable option.
Second, you should have time to invest in your chosen program. Whether you choose to go to school full-time or part-time, you will need hours each week to devote to your studies. And, you will need to do so for at least a year or two, maybe more.
Ramli, a full-time student, spent a lot of time over two years doing research, practicing and performing, which he welcomed as an essential step in his professional development.
The most important thing, is that you have a strong desire to learn more about your chosen field. You will have an opportunity to hone specific skills and be mentored by leaders in your field. These things may advance your career at some point; they might even enable you to pursue a previously unconsidered path. So your primary motivation needs to be the education itself.
If you are not sure, consider the reasons Ramli gives for earning his degree: a desire to become a leading oboist and educator and to deepen his knowledge of the American school of oboe playing.
Certainly, pursuing such goals through graduate school will help Ramli find work as a musician, and it will probably help him secure more prestigious, higher paying positions, too. But neither salary nor rank was the leading factor in his decision to earn his degree; it was the simple but essential drive to know more.
If you can afford the time and money a graduate degree requires and you can appreciate the personal enrichment it offers, you will not be disappointed in the results. The education itself will never let you down, regardless of how quickly you receive its more tangible benefits. Still, you should enter a program with the right expectations. Be comfortable with what you will gain immediately and what might take more time.
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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.