Deciding to pursue graduate school is a significant, life-altering move. It requires an extensive commitment of time and money—not to mention other opportunities that could be lost if you choose not to attend grad school. While flipping a coin may appear like the easiest approach for making such decisions, it’s far from the most judicious way for determining your future course in life.
With the disruption caused by COVID-19, applications for both careers and higher education have seen an unprecedented surge. As more and more jobs are becoming remote-friendly, it has become a viable solution for those who were laid off or unemployed due to economic instability. People now have an enticing opportunity to upgrade their skill set through educational programs which can help them achieve greater heights in life.
In a modern world where undergraduate degrees are becoming less valuable, many people opt to pursue higher education to stay ahead. While no one can make this decision on your behalf, we have outlined some key considerations and perspectives that will help you approach the big question: “Should I go to grad school or not?”
5 questions to ask yourself
Pursuing higher education is a huge investment – both financially and emotionally.
A graduate degree requires dedication, hard work, and perseverance to be successful.
Before you make your decision, take some time to ask yourself these five essential questions.
1. Why is grad school on my mind?
Take a step back and assess your reasons for wanting to change. Are you hoping for job advancement? Considering an alternate path? Under family pressure or simply uncertain of what else to pursue? Whatever the impetus may be, you must understand why you want to make a move before jumping in.
If you’re well-positioned financially, attending graduate school to explore your interests may be a shrewd decision. However, it’s an expensive venture and is not the most suitable option if it will impose financial hardship on you or if your passion for the subject matter is lacking.
2. Why am I thinking about grad school now?
Have you been dreaming of grad school, or are external forces pushing you in that direction? Are you considering pursuing a graduate degree immediately after your undergraduate studies? It’s an important decision and one that requires careful thought.
To maintain both vigor and learning, taking a break from studying is essential to avoiding burnout and keeping the fire of enthusiasm alight. Venturing out into the professional world may even give you an invaluable point of view that will heighten your appreciation for academic goals when you go back to school.
3. What type of degree do I have in mind?
If you want to set yourself up for success, it’s essential to understand what your passions are. If you’re not passionate about the subject matter, don’t waste your time and effort on this lengthy process. Investing a significant amount of time and energy into something that doesn’t excite you is simply not worthwhile.! Make sure that you are committing to something with genuine motivation and fervor; recognize why this particular field is meaningful to you, and use that as the inspiration for your actions.
For some programs, the competition is fierce. If you’re aspiring to receive your doctoral degree or a fellowship post-graduation, it’s essential to have impressive recommendation letters and an exemplary academic standing. Depending on the nature of your program, having an innovative research concept may be necessary as well.
(If you are wondering about what to look for when selecting graduate schools, watch this quick video where I break it down for you.)
4. Where is my dream grad school located?
Have you already considered relocating to Europe for university or will you remain in your hometown, commuting to the nearest college? If there’s a particular professor or lab that interests you, now is the time to investigate further. Do not forget that all universities have contact information available; therefore, if any questions arise – reach out and ask! Researching thoroughly before making this vital decision can help ensure success
5. How much time do I have on my hands?
If you’re looking to gain a degree yet still need an income, then part-time degrees could be the best option for you. While it may require more time than a full-time program does, obtaining your qualifications while earning money might just make that extra time worth it. Alternatively, if your undivided attention is dedicated solely to pursuing higher education and graduating as soon as possible – with no worries about paying rent or bills – then opting for a full-time course may prove ideal in the long run!
6. Do I have the coins for it?
Graduate school can be pricey, but don’t let that stop you from reaching your dreams! Before selecting a program to attend, investigate their financial aid programs and job opportunities. Additionally, having an emergency savings fund will come in handy — especially if you’ve been envisioning this move for years.
What financial investment will you need to make for your graduate degree?
The overall expense of your degree will depend on both the program and university you choose to attend. To save money, narrow down your school selection early to avoid excessive application fees (which typically start from $100 per institution). Tuition rates vary but usually range anywhere between a few thousand dollars for domestic students up to twice as much for out-of-state or international ones. Bear in mind that textbooks, materials, and other items may require additional expenses too.
Don’t underestimate the financial burden of everyday expenses such as gas, food, rent, and insurance. Fortunately, most educational institutions offer paid teaching assistant positions and various scholarships to help lighten the load on your wallet!
When it comes to college in a pricey city, you may need to consider sharing an apartment or living somewhere with a long travel time. Take some time to contemplate the kind of life you are committing yourself to, and make sure that it is something within your capability.
It is essential to recognize the significance of financial stability when going back to school; if you are not working while studying, your income will take a hit. Financial wellness or unwellness can significantly impact your overall health and well-being, thus influencing how successful you will be in grad school.
Why grad school rocks
Investing your time and energy in graduate education can bring you many rewards. Here are just some of the reasons to consider further study:
1. More Money
Pursuing a graduate degree is an attractive option for many individuals who are looking to increase their earning potential. Master’s and Ph.D.’s can open doors to more prestigious, higher-paying jobs and promotions that can help them get ahead in life.
2. Fast-track your career
A graduate degree can give your career a much-needed boost. As more and more employers look for applicants with undergraduate degrees, having that extra level of knowledge and experience makes you stand out from the competition. Investing in a postgraduate degree is an excellent way to ensure success in the future
3. More travels
Some graduate programs have the enjoyable advantage of fieldwork, making these courses even more rewarding while at the same time enhancing your resumé.
4. Expanding your network
Remember, it’s not what you know – but who. Networking is essential to any success story and nurturing your interpersonal skills is key to achieving this now and in the future too. Grad school provides opportunities like connecting with fellow students, faculty members, alumni, or other professionals for a wealth of potential benefits. By taking advantage of these network connections, you can easily get your foot in the door and locate amazing prospects for what lies ahead after graduation.
Why grad school sucks
Before opting for any graduate program, you must weigh the pros and cons. Make sure to evaluate these five key points before making your decision:
1. It’s a rat race
Joining a graduate program can give you the edge to succeed in an ultra-competitive industry. However, it’s important to keep in mind that gaining admission into these programs is often very competitive as well.
As these programs only accept a certain number of students annually, it has become increasingly competitive due to the influx of people returning to school seeking improved employment opportunities. To make yourself stand out from the crowd, you will have to draw upon your unique background and experiences to set yourself apart.
The fight doesn’t end as soon as you get in – unfortunately, scholarships, TA positions, and research spots are frequently scarce. This is why it’s crucial to thoroughly investigate a school’s financial aid opportunities before enrolling.
2. It keeps you away from the real word
Pursuing graduate school can be a way for some individuals to remain in an academic setting, rather than entering the competitive job market. This may stem from having difficulty finding employment opportunities within their field of study, or simply feeling uncertain about which area to specialize in. Staying out of the workforce for such prolonged periods could be both costly and unhelpful; this reluctance can make it seem increasingly daunting as time goes on.
3. It might ruin your zen
Earning a graduate degree is not just about intelligence, but the strength of character; it’s an examination of your willingness to endure tough situations and remain focused in the face of adversity. As you progress through your graduate degree, the competition increases and so does the pressure – prioritizing your time effectively becomes essential for success, as well as maintaining emotional control during periods when things may become overwhelming. In other words, grad school can be stressful.
4. It takes time
On average, a master’s degree can take three years to complete, and pursuing a Ph.D may require even more time depending on which program you select and your own individual journey. Unfortunately, many individuals face financial hardship and are unable to dedicate two years of their life or allocate all of their savings toward tuition payments.
Although you may guarantee yourself a higher salary with a postgraduate degree, you will likely be left with hefty student loan payments. The longer your education lasts, the more debt you’ll acquire – meaning that once graduation rolls around, settling those loans becomes of top priority and any job offer might have to suffice.
The bottom line
Graduate school may not be the right choice for everyone, but it could be perfect for you. It will not only improve your career prospects but also provide endless opportunities to learn and grow. You’ll meet others who share your interests and passions and come out of the experience more qualified than your peers.
Although an extra degree is a dedication that could be both costly and strenuous, it’s important to remember that you may not even need it for your career.
While the prospect of embarking on a graduate degree may be exciting, it is not something to take lightly. In many cases, answering the question “Should I go to grad school or not?” is a deep, philosophical question that needs to be taken into consideration carefully.
Thankfully, with this blog post, you’re armed with essential tools that can help you identify your career needs and assist in the process of making the right choice for pursuing your studies further. This conversation should not end here, though—if you really want the best advice on how to approach this decision based on your personal goals and career path, sign up today for a free consultation. Take the leap towards growing your potential and investing in yourself! After all, only you know what’s best for you.
With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Dr. Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Dr. Barr spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Dr. Barr has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.