Whether you are just finishing up your bachelor’s degree or feeling the itch to go back to school after working an entry-level job, making the decision to go to graduate school is a big deal.
To help you decide whether or not graduate school is right for you and your career, here is a 5-step guide to help walk you through the decision-making process:
Step 1: Ask yourself why you want to go and what you hope to achieve from graduate school
Before researching the top graduate schools in your field, it’s important to first establish why exactly you want to go in the first place.
Is it required for the next step in your career? Is it because you want a new career change altogether? Is it because all your friends are going?
All of these are valid reasons to want to go to graduate school. However, it’s important to remember that while graduate school is a serious investment in your future, it comes with a hefty price tag– both personal and financial. Being honest with yourself about why exactly you want to go puts you in the best position to weigh up the pros and cons pragmatically.
Step 2: Research and evaluate specific programs in your field
It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the school you went to for your bachelor’s program will be the best school to pursue a master’s or doctorate degree.
While this may be true in some cases, it’s still important to spend some time researching and evaluating all of the potential options. You may be surprised to learn that there are more cost-effective options closer to home, or you may find exactly what you’re looking for across the country. You will never know until you take the time to look!
Step 3: Research the financial implications
It is no secret that going to graduate school can get expensive fast. Tuition and fees increase each year, and the fight for scholarships can be competitive.
Beyond tuition, it’s also good to think about the other expenses you will have like books, supplies, rent, and general living costs – bearing in mind that if you are going to school, you will not be able to work full-time.
Once you have an idea of what the estimated costs of graduate school will be, you should then start to think about your own financial situation. Do you have any savings? Will you receive support from your family? Do you qualify for any grants? Are you prepared to take out a loan?
Step 4: Think about the potential return on investment (ROI)
Again, think of graduate school as an investment. After doing some research, you should have a good idea of how much it will cost in terms of time and money.
With that in mind, think about how a graduate degree will pay off. Will it make you eligible to apply for higher-paying positions? Will it connect you with the right people in your field? Will it increase your lifetime earning potential? If not, will going to graduate school still be worth it for you?
Step 5: Reach out to people in your field who have been to graduate school
A simple way to get a feel for the impact graduate school can have on your life is to speak with people in your field who have already been.
If you don’t know of anyone, it’s perfectly fine to reach out to a program you’re interested in and ask them to connect you with a past or current student. He or she may be able to meet you for a coffee or chat with you over the phone about their experience and answer any questions you may have.
Graduate school is a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Before taking the plunge and applying, make sure to:
- Define why you want to go
- Research lots of programs and their financial implications
- Decide whether or not the costs are worth the long-term benefits
Once you’ve had some time to reflect on these points, you should have a much clearer idea of whether or not graduate school is right for you.