If you’re about to graduate, you might be asking yourself, should I go to grad school? After all, you just spent four years studying and shaping your future, so why not continue? Here are 9 questions to consider if you’re thinking about going to grad school.
Should I Go to Grad School?
Certain professions require a master’s degree or a doctorate in order to get licensed. Are you in one of those fields? Then you have a strong case for going to grad school. If you’re not, you might be in a field that requires a master’s degree to even get an interview like in certain business occupations. There are also certain careers that don’t require a graduate degree, but a degree can give you an advantage over the competition if you have one.
According to Census Bureau data, an increasing number of people have been completing graduate school — it has increased 24 percent from 2008 to 2013, from 29 million to 36 million. That is to say that 7 million more people have experienced graduate education than five years ago. Going to grad school is a big decision to make so you should consider the costs and timing before applying.
How Much Does It Cost to Go to Grad School?
Graduate school programs vary widely depending on the type of school and degree. On average, annual tuition for a masters degree ranges from $11,300 for a public school to $24,000 for a private school. Additional costs include textbooks, supplies, and transportation. Public schools are cheaper than private schools and the benefits of both vary as well.
According to 2010 Census Bureau data, master’s degrees can add $12,000 to $17,000 in income over a bachelor’s degree. A PhD can add $30,000 to $51,000. This can add up over the course of a lifetime to hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional income. For Biology and Life Science majors, for example, graduate degree holders earn $45,000 more than bachelor’s degree holders.
A graduate degree is an investment and one that comes with risks. It’s possible that you may be in more debt than you can get out of after you graduate. Take a look at the average medical school debt, for example.It’s also possible that your chosen field is not as in demand as you expected it to be. These are all factors you need to weigh when answering the question, “Should I go to grad school?”
Why Do You Get a Master’s Degree?
Some people get a master’s degree for the respect and trust that comes with those extra letters next to their name. Others get it because it’s a requirement for their field. Even more continue in school because they love learning or aren’t quite ready to jump into the job market. Whatever the reason, you need to think carefully before signing on the dotted line to go to graduate school. It’s not as easy as you think.
The emotional and financial toll that going to graduate school causes is not to be taken lightly. Many programs are expensive and difficult and you have to give up a lot of the rest of your life in order to do well. You may have to forgo your full-time job and ignore your friends and family for a while. Make sure that the benefits of going to graduate school outweigh the costs by asking yourself a few questions:
- Will having a graduate degree help me advance in my career?
- Will a graduate degree give me access to new job opportunities?
- Will I earn more as a result of having a graduate degree?
- Will I have knowledge and skills that will make me better at my job?
How Many Grad Schools Should I Apply to?
Most people apply to anywhere from three to eight graduate schools. Applying to graduate school can cost a lot of money per application, because you have to pay for the transcripts, the standardized test scores, postage, and the application fee, which is non-refundable. The fees can be very high for some programs.
As you increase the number of programs you apply to, you also increase your chances of being accepted simply by improving your odds. The laws of diminishing returns apply after a certain point. You might run out of money and the quality of your applications could drop off, too. Think carefully about which programs you want to apply to and give the proper time and attention to creating the best application possible.
What Should I Go to Grad School For?
Choosing a course of study is one of the most important decisions when you decide if you should go to grad school. Do you want an advanced degree in the same field of your undergraduate degree? This might limit your job prospects. You might want to study something that complements your bachelor’s degree instead.
If you got a degree in one field, you might consider getting an MBA so you can pursue a position as a manager in a company. Research is critical for this decision, because you need to know what graduate degree will suit your dream career while also making financial sense.
How Many Years is a Graduate Degree?
It can take anywhere from two to eight years to finish a graduate degree, depending on the type of program you’re studying. Keep in mind that you will have to balance your school, work, and social lives at the same time. It can cause a lot of stress and put your work-life or work-school balance off kilter.
Here’s a list of the average amount of time it takes to complete a master’s degree depending on program type:
|Program Type||Time to Complete Masters|
|Business Administration (MBA)||2 Years|
|Computer Science (MS or MCS)||1-2 Years|
|Education (MEd)||1-2 Years|
|Engineering (MS or MEng)||1-2 Years|
|Health Administration (MHA)||2 Years|
|Library and Information Science (MLS/MLIS)||2 Years|
|Nursing (MSN or MS)||1-2 Years|
|Public Administration (MPA)||2 Years|
|Public Health (MPH)||2 Years|
|Social Work (MSW)||2 Years|
When Should I Apply for Grad School?
A standard application timeline for graduate school looks like this:
May – Start researching grad schools and take a GRE practice test. Your GRE score will determine how much practice you need for the actual test.
June – Sign up for a prep course for the GRE — this can either be in person or online. Register for the GRE general test.
July – Request information from the schools you like.
August – Take the GRE and take it again if you’re not happy with your scores. Draft a statement of purpose.
September – Register for the GRE subject test in November, if necessary. Finalize your list of schools and contact your recommenders. Polish your statement of purpose.
October – Request official transcripts from your college. Send your recommenders any additional information they might need to reference for your letter including a resume or personal statement. Arrange a campus visit at your prospective schools.
November – Give your personal statement to someone who is in the field you’d like to study. Also have honest friends or family read it over to critique it. Take the GRE subject test and have your scores sent directly to your schools.
December – Submit all of your grad applications and keep copies for your records. COnfirm that your recommendations have been sent.
How Do I Choose the Right Grad School?
After deciding on what program you want to study, you need to choose which school to go to. Do your research to find reputable programs that have created successful graduates. Find out which programs are respected by people in your field of choice.
Other things to consider: the cost, the location, the faculty, and what research opportunities are available. Also think about the type of network you will leave school with. Are recent graduates the type of people you would want to associate with?
What about the entry requirements? Ask yourself if you can actually achieve the average GRE or GMAT scores that the school is looking for. Is your GPA sufficient from your undergraduate studies?
Should I Go to Grad School Now?
Going straight from college to grad school is a good decision, because you can maintain the momentum of studying and testing that you built up in your undergraduate studies. You also probably have fewer responsibilities such as being unmarried or without children. If the job market is particularly tough, then it can be a good decision to benefit from an advanced degree.
For many people, though, it’s wiser to get into the workforce for a few years to gain some experience before getting a graduate degree. That way, you can confirm that you want a degree in the field and you have some real-life experience to apply to your studies. If you find an employer who is willing to pay for your tuition (some or all of it), you’re in even better luck. You can work and study at the same time while having it paid for.
Grad school is an expensive and serious decision. Take the time to think about it fully before jumping into anything. You will be thankful that you weighed all of the benefits and costs before making a decision that will affect the rest of your life.