Graduate school is a long road that can be extremely rewarding. It requires an intense curiosity and work ethic. Depending on the program you choose, it can be a good idea to refine and deepen your skills to make you a more attractive candidate for any other work you wish to do. But the debate of education versus experience is one with many arguments. While the classroom can give you an excellent foundation and specialization, real-life experience is your opportunity to showcase your skills. If you're wondering whether graduate school is right for you, we invite you to consider these 11 questions.
1. Is now the right time?
If you're a recent college grad who's intimidated by the real world, you can't hide from real life by staying in school forever. When it comes to making a decision that will impact many years of your life, it's best to consider whether it can wait or not. More often than not, it will be wise to get some work experience under your belt before you apply. Then, you'll be sure that this is the domain you want.
2. What are my intentions?
Think about why you want to go to grad school. Do you want to become an expert in your field? Will it help advance your career? Do you want to keep living away from your parents? Make sure your head is in the right place and that graduate school will be helpful in getting you where you want to be.
3. What are my financing options?
Student debt faces a growing population of scholars-in-the-making. Graduate school is a huge investment in your education. But many schools offer financing options that can make the financial plunge more palatable. Also, be on the lookout for scholarships.
4. Can I manage school and a full-time job at the same time?
Nothing in life comes free (well, unless you have a scholarship). You're always going to have extra expenses -- we all need to eat and sleep somewhere! If you have a full-time job and are going to school at the same time, it's going to take a toll on you. It's been done, but be prepared for the long hours and a hefty monthly coffee bill. You may want to consider being a part-time student in this situation, which will lessen your load.
5. Am I absolutely sure what I want to study?
Especially for PhD programs, students are known to drop out. Are you prepared to go all the way? Give graduate school a lot of thought, because once you're in, you're in.
6. Have I done my research on the best programs?
Devote a lot of time to researching. We suggest making a good old fashioned pros and cons list to determine which programs will be best for you.
7. Have I attended an open house?
An open house is often the best way to get the feel of a program and to meet the people involved. A university's website is only going to offer you the marketed, ultra-positive version of the school. Here, you can talk to professors, alumni, current students, and other departmental staff to field all of your personal questions and get yourself known.
8. Are these my peeps?
At the open house, or on a separate visit, take a look around at the kinds of people you see. Are they flooding the library day and night? Do they seem to still have a little time for fun? You will be among these students, so be sure that they look like they could be your friends. Even though graduate school is not necessarily about making friends more than it is about learning, it's important to get along with your classmates and professors. They will provide the connections that will get you where you want to be in the future.
9. Am I prepared to work?
This is serious business. Get yourself some notebooks.
10. Have I talked it over with a trusted adviser?
A trusted adviser can be a friend, parent, or former teacher. It can be your co-worker or your deli guy. Talk it out and get opinions. But at the end of the day, grad school is your decision.
11. Am I ready to apply?
Be sure to know the application requirements and due dates back and forth. A lot of these items take a time to prepare, such as graduate exams, essays and personal statements, and acquiring official transcripts. Pay attention to detail, make yourself a checklist, and get that puppy in the mail! (Or, just hit submit.)
Scholar, we think you're now ready to embark on your academic journey and wish you the best of luck.