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How to Decide if Grad School Is Right For You

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There are many reasons to go to grad school. Many of those who enter grad school have hopes of earning more, changing a career, travelling, performing advanced research or passionately exploring a subject in detail. Particularly in a poor economy where there are fewer jobs for college graduates, the idea of grad school can be quite enticing. However, studying for a graduate degree can be expensive and time-consuming. When studying part-time, a Master's can take many years to complete and even full-time graduate students can take five or more years to complete a PhD program. Additionally, you may not be a guaranteed a job upon graduation.

So, should you go to graduate school? While no one can offer a concrete answer, it helps to ask yourself a few questions to see whether you're truly ready for graduate study or if an advanced degree will really help your situation. It is personally different for everybody.

Do Your Research
In your field, is a graduate degree required for most jobs? If your aim is to be a college professor, then most likely a PhD or Master's is required. Education administration, medicine, and law are all fields in which graduate study is essential. However, many careers in the private sectors may not reward a graduate degree, or simply offer a small pay increase. Ask people in the field for their opinions -- they will directly understand the usefulness of the degrees. Make sure to take a wide sample -- the extent to which a graduate degree is respected is often company-specific.

Analyze Your Motivations
Are you thinking about graduate school to avoid looking for a career? Or do you just have an immense interest in the academic subject and want to pursue it? Graduate school can be a fulfilling endeavor, but also can be a mistake when taken on for the wrong reasons. For instance, going to grad school simply because your family or professors have encouraged it does not necessarily make it the right decision for you. Their reasoning may not be applicable to your individual situation and interests. You will need to consider all the factors in your life.

Grad School Isn't Like Undergraduate
If you think graduate school is a great way to prolong your college life, you will be disappointed; it's not the same experience. Graduate students have more responsibilities and less oversight. They're expected to be incredibly self-motivated and strict. Often, advisors and professors don't have the time to supervise and guide their students, and grad students may be expected to take teaching roles in addition to completing their own student work. If they aren't disciplined, they risk losing fellowships and potential research opportunities. Grad school is all about going that extra mile to excel. The sense of community that is often present among undergraduate students will often be far weaker at the graduate school level. Put another way, you shouldn't expect it to be as much fun as your undergraduate years.

Ask graduate students about their experiences. Not only will you get a good picture of grad school, but you'll discover what to expect out of a particular program. Do they have sufficient funding? Do faculty members genuinely care about the research and provide sufficient support? Do students have enough personal time in between their own work and teaching or research opportunities? Do those students have jobs waiting for them when they graduate?

Consider The Costs
Can you actually afford to go to grad school? Look at financial aid, as well as fellowships and grants, and ask graduate programs what they typically offer students. Many graduate students work part-time while studying, but this may not work for everyone. Plus, there is a concrete risk of getting overloaded with responsibilities -- think carefully about this.

Look At The Statistics
There are many studies on income related to education and the salaries within specific fields that can inform the decision to attend or not attend graduate school. The success rate of a specific graduate program is informative -- for instance, how many students find jobs or academic positions in their field after graduating? It's also important to know how many students graduate with a degree (the graduation rate) and the average length of time needed to obtain a degree. If you can make sense of these statistics, then you'll be halfway there in your evaluation.

Whether or not to attend graduate school is an important choice that should be considered and approached with great care. Take all of these steps into account and you will be able to make a truly informed decision. Good luck!