Furthering Your Education
Pursuing further education beyond your undergraduate experience is a common consideration among students. Additional education might include a post-bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree (1-3 years additional study beyond a bachelor’s degree for in-depth study and practice in a specific field, commonly an M.A., M.S., or M.Ed), or a doctoral degree (3-6 years advanced study, typically with a strong research component, common for Law (J.D.), Medicine (M.D., D.O.), Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) or research/teaching (Ph.D.).
Whether you plan to apply to a graduate program, medical school, or another post-grad academic opportunity, it’s important to thoroughly think through the decision before applying.
Questions to ask Know Yourself
- What are my career goals?
- What do I hope to achieve in my career?
- What are my motivations for continuing my education?
Make sure that you’re choosing to attend graduate or professional school because it makes sense within your overall career goals. Are you continuing your education to delay having to search for a job or because you don’t know what to do with your life? Graduate/professional school is a significant commitment of time, energy and money. It should be a thoughtfully considered decision based on your specific interests and career goals.
- Are you ready for graduate school?
Most graduate or professional programs are quite rigorous. Do you have the drive and motivation necessary to complete the program? Do you have the resources necessary to pay for and support yourself through additional schooling?
Know the Industry
- What career options exist?
- Is graduate school required?
To know this, you must first have clearly defined career goals. You can find out if a graduate degree is necessary in your field of interest by reviewing job descriptions/requirements, talking to professors, professionals in the field, alumni and asking their opinion about the necessity and the pros/cons of having an advanced degree. You may discover that a graduate degree might make you a less desirable candidate in some instances. On the other hand, you might discover that a graduate degree is a requirement for the type of position you are seeking.
Know the Process
- Research programs
Utilize accredited graduate program directories for your field of interest. Accreditation is a process of validation in which colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning are evaluated. Various accreditation bodies exist to validate programs, based on discipline. Use directories from these accrediting organizations to search for programs in your discipline of interest. Here are just a few examples of program directories:
- Understand admission requirements and application procedures and timelines
And if you decide graduate school is right for you… Factors to consider when selecting programs
Each program’s requirements will differ somewhat. Your decision to apply to certain schools may, in part, be determined by how well you meet these requirements and how competitive the program is. However, if you don’t meet all standards, don’t let that deter you from applying. Many times, you can compensate for weaknesses in one area, with strengths in another.
Evaluate whether the program meets your educational and professional needs and interests. Does the program have specialized concentrations, or is there a particular faculty member’s research or lab that interests you?
Culture of the program is an important thing to consider because this will help you determine if the environment is a good fit for you. Whenever possible, it’s helpful to visit the schools/programs you are considering. Many programs offer info sessions periodically so prospective students can learn more and engage with program faculty and staff. If visiting isn’t an option, schedule a phone conversation with program faculty and/or current students.
Graduate programs can be quite costly, especially if you are an out-of-state student or if the program doesn’t provide financial assistance to its students. Some key information surrounding cost that you might want to obtain include: Are there graduate assistantships, grants, scholarships, or fellowships offered by the department, college, or university? What percentage of students generally receive these types of assistance? Is financial aid available? How much would you qualify for?
Where are you willing to live for the time you are in school? How will this impact you, your family, etc.? Consider things like cost of living, transportation, etc. Location is often the first filter people use to narrow down program options.
What kind of reputation does the school/program/faculty have? Verify that the program is accredited by the appropriate organization.
Employment following graduation
Inquire about the percentage of graduates who were able to find employment upon graduation. You might also ask where these graduates are employed (organization and geographic location), their position titles, and their starting salary (if that’s important to you). What types of career services are available for graduate students?
|Program Name||Location||Program Content||Culture||Admission Requirements||Cost||Financial Aid and Support||Accreditation||Faculty and Research|
Common application requirements
- General Application
- Letters of Recommendation
- Personal Statement
- Entrance Exam Scores (GRE)
- GPA requirement
|Program||Deadline||GPA||Test Scores Required||Application Fee||Number of Recommendation Letters||Other Materials|
Graduate school checklist
- Determine if and which degree will be most beneficial to you in your career growth, i.e. masters, doctoral, professional degree
- Talk with career counselors, advisors, and faculty to discuss your plans for graduate school.
- Develop a list of schools that offer programs in areas that interest you.
- Gather information about the programs and rate them.
- Obtain information about the research professors are conducting there.
- Maintain a strong GPA and score competitively on the GRE or other required entrance exams.
- Develop relationships with your instructors and advisors. (They are great resources and can write you strong letters of recommendation)
- Gain experience in the field you want to pursue in graduate school.
- Ensure that you have met all undergraduate prerequisites for the graduate school program(s) you apply for.
- Develop a plan for how you will pay for graduate school.
- If possible, visit the graduate schools you are considering.
As with many things in life, sometimes things don’t go the way we originally planned…and that’s OK! Whether you don’t get into your preferred graduate program, or life circumstances change, it’s important to consider alternatives to going to graduate or professional school. Here are a few benefits to having a “plan B:”
- Having a job for a couple of years may help you better assess what you want to study in graduate school
- Taking time to pay off undergraduate debt before adding more to your debt load
- Getting some real-world experience can make you a more mature and competitive applicant
- Could be a better return on investment having additional schooling combined with work experience
- Taking a break from the schooling you’ve already put in