The decision to go to graduate school is a big one—it’s a commitment of time, energy, resources, and finances. Is it something you want to do? Before you answer, ask yourself these six essential questions.
1. Why do I want to go?
You need to have an honest conversation with yourself. Our advice? Start a journal, if you haven’t already.
Some patterns to look for in your thinking or writing about why you want to go? If you keep coming back to the idea of not being ready to enter the workforce, then you should enter the workforce. Putting it off by going to graduate school isn’t going to help you. Not wanting to get a job is not a good reason to invest in a graduate degree—because when you graduate, you’ll be right back in the same place.
If there’s something you want to explore more, or a certain kind of job you want that requires an advanced degree, then you should pursue that thinking by looking at graduate school options. If your desired career requires an advanced degree like a master’s or PhD, graduate school is a good direction.
2. What type of program suits me?
Once you commit yourself to going, figure out the initial graduate degree you want to pursue, and get researching. There are thousands of graduate programs throughout the world—focus your search for a program on your desired subject, size of the program, and opportunities to earn specialized degrees, if that’s something you want to pursue.
You should also research a program’s requirements. Will you have to teach? How often do you have to apply for graduate funding? Is it a full-time or part-time program? On-campus, online, or hybrid?
Figure out the type of program you want. Then do the research.
3. When should I apply?
You’re not in a race. Take your time and apply to the right program—gve yourself some time—maybe a year—between your undergraduate and graduate work.
Don’t feel pressure to apply as an undergraduate if you’re not ready to make that commitment. Don’t let your peers’ decisions influence yours.
Apply to graduate school when it feels right for you, and for the right reasons.
Keep in mind that most programs have hard start dates and deadlines. Once you decide to apply, get your materials together and go for it.
4. How will I pay for it?
This is the $25,000 question, literally. Probably more. The key here is to understand how much debt you’re willing to take on, and how you plan to pay it back. Your first step is to understand your loan and financial aid options. If you need help, ask—you should never feel like you don’t understand the amount of money you’re borrowing.
Before you agree to anything, make sure you have at least two plans for paying back any loans—this includes your timeline, too. You can get help determining your monthly payments by using loan calculators—but even more effective is to work with a financial planner from the financial aid office.
Bottom line: you need to conclude that the amount of debt and loan repayment is worth it. If it’s not, reconsider your plans.
5. How will the degree improve my career?
If you’ve already spent some time in the job market and you’re getting the advanced degree to improve your prospects, then you’re probably in the right place. Make sure that the advanced degree will get you where you want to be by talking with your current employer and even your undergraduate career office. Most have alumni services for career counseling and have people who are happy to help you sort through the career benefits of a graduate degree.
If you’re about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, and you are unsure if a graduate degree will help your career path, then you should definitely talk with your university or college career placement office—and your advisor.
6. Which department will I join?
While you complete your graduate degree at a university, your department defines your experience.
As a graduate student, your department helps define the work you do and what you accomplish. The people in the department create your working environment for your graduate career, and potentially your life career, too.
Find out about the department’s culture by talking with current and former students. Find out about stipends, grants, and the department’s track record for job placements.
Your takeaway? Go to graduate school if it’s something you truly want, can afford, and will advance your career and life in the direction you want to go. You’ve got this.
Learn more about getting your master’s degree.