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Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Before Applying to Grad School

Jul 15, 2008 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

If you’re considering graduate school, you’d better be considering it for the right reasons.  Grad school is expensive—in the past decade, the average cost for Master’s and Ph.D programs has skyrocketed.  Some degrees cost $50,000 or more.  Even though people with advanced degrees have been shown to make millions more over their lifetimes than those without, it’s not that simple for everyone.  For some, getting a graduate degree can be a costly mistake.  If you’re considering graduate school, here are seven questions you should ask yourself first.

Do you need an advanced degree?

Think about what you want to do.  Some industries practically require an advanced degree, such as mpa degrees, which can give you a significant edge in the job market. This is particularly true in research-oriented jobs in the sciences, as well as jobs in medicine and law.  But many fields don’t require advanced degrees at all, and in some areas, it’s a drawback.  Do thorough research and talk to as many people as you can in your industry.

See Also: Online Graduate Degree Programs

What’s the earning potential for grads in your industry?

Medical school costs a lot—but as a doctor with a medical degree, you’re very likely to earn enough to pay off your debt when you’re through.  Not so with a Ph.D in philosophy.  When you graduate, you may have a lot of debt—even if you have a stipend it’s not likely to pay a lot, and you may have to take out loans to cover living expenses.  In addition, you’re likely to defer your undergraduate loans while you’re in graduate school, and many student loans accumulate interest while they’re deferred.  You’ll need to be sure your chances of paying off all that debt when you get out are high.

How competitive is your field?

Even if pay is high for people with online masters degrees in your industry, your chances of landing a well-paid, fulfilling job right out of grad school may not be great.  Look at the competition in your field.  Competition for tenure-track professorships at universities and colleges is intense; only a small fraction of people who intend to become professors actually wind up in academe.  Others work in low-paid adjunct-professorships for years.  Even if the plum jobs in your industry are well-paid, take a realistic look at your chances of landing one of these jobs.  If too much depends on luck, you may want to think twice.

Do you know exactly what you want to study?

Undergraduate school is often used by young students as a time to explore, discover where their passions lie, and try new things.  Many turn to graduate school hoping for an extension of that time of exploration.  But grad school is not the place to go to discover yourself.  It’s a place for highly focused study, and if you don’t know exactly what you want to learn, you’re likely to make a very expensive and time-consuming mistake.

See Also: Online Bachelor's Degrees 

Are you trying to escape the “rat race?”

Many college grads miss the intellectual challenge and sheltered environment of college when they graduate.  Some go to grad school because they see it as more appealing than work.  This is one of the worst reasons to go to graduate school.  If you do, you’ll graduate with a degree you may or may not need, no further idea of what you want to do with your life, and more debt. 

Can you handle the day-to-day challenges of grad school?

Not everyone who drops out of grad school does it for financial reasons.  Some students drop out because they’re miserable.  While every graduate school is different, many students complain that there’s no social life, they have no free time or money, and the environment is insanely competitive.

Is now the right time?

Ask yourself whether it would make more sense to wait until you know more, you’ve paid off your undergraduate debt, or you have an employer who’s willing to finance your degree.

Graduate school is great for those who know exactly which degree to pursue; who need the degree for their career; and whose earning potential and chances for landing a job are greatly increased with an advanced degree.  If either of these three things is missing in your situation, graduate school may not be the best option for you. Should I Go to Grad School Right After I Finish My Undergrad?



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