Should I go to grad school?

By Lwilliams

If you have plans to become a doctor or lawyer, then yeah, grad school should definitely be in your future plans. But, what about the rest of us? If you’re nearing the end of your undergraduate degree, you may begin to wonder if you should keep this schooling thing up. After all, these past four years just flew by, so what’s another two ... or seven? Not sure if grad school is right for you? Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself before you commit to more time ... and more money.

Will I need a master’s degree or PhD to excel in my future career?

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Like we said, it’s a no-brainer for brain surgeons to plan for grad school, but it may be a harder decision to make if you’re undergrad concentration was in, let’s say, art history. Will continuing your degree offer you more career options? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. Do your research, and talk to people in the field. Find out if a graduate degree is required, and seek advice for a path to help you get to where you want to go. It’s possible that you won’t need a graduate degree to excel.

Do I even know what I want to do with my life?

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Just because you’re graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree doesn't mean you have a clue what you want to do with your life — and that’s OK. Don’t look at grad school simply as a means to become a professional student and avoid career fairs, resumes, and desk jobs. Instead, try volunteering, interning, working (it’s totally acceptable to try different careers outside of your major) first to see what it is that you enjoy. If you simply have a passion for learning, and have the dough to pay for it, then use grad school to feed your curiosity. Just remember, you don’t have the same luxuries of changing your mind like in undergrad. Be sure the program you pick is something you’re willing to commit to.

How good am I at handling stress?

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“High school is going to be hard.” “College is going to be harder.” “Grad school is going to kill you.” OK, grad school may not kill you, but perhaps you've heard the struggles of dissertations, creating a thesis, and all the sleepless nights spent studying. The struggle is real, and it can be stressful for even the most level-headed, highlighting color-coordinated, A+ students out there. If you’re willing and able to take on the challenge, let’s move on to the next question.

Will a graduate degree help me earn more money?

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You can find several jobs out there where a graduate degree can help you earn more money. For example, professors typically make much more when working for institutes of higher education, which require at least a master’s degree. To secure a full-time, tenured university position, a doctoral degree is required. But, just because you have that fancy paper doesn't mean you’ll get more paper. In fact, you may not be considered for certain jobs because you lack full-time work experience. Or, you can appear overqualified, making it even harder to get your foot in the door. Again, do your homework and see if the cost of graduate school is a wise investment.

Can I afford it?

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We all know about the high cost of college. Seriously, the price of grad school can be downright ridiculous. But, this isn't shocking anyone. School is expensive. It didn't stop you from getting that bachelor’s degree (although you may have had Ramen a few/several nights to make it work — all a part of living the dream). If money is the only thing stopping you, let’s look at some options.

  1. Figure out your return on education. Similar to searching for an undergraduate college, research grad schools to see which one is going to give you the best bang for your buck. Even though you may have your heart set on a dream school, many other graduate degree programs could offer you a better package for the same degree.
  2. Does your current employer offer education benefits? It never hurts to ask. Just be sure to look at the fine print. Some employers may want to get their money's worth and could require you to stay with the company for a certain amount of time after completing your degree.
  3. Look into opportunities to work for the college while getting your degree. Many programs offer jobs at the university in areas like admissions or as student instructors. This could help kill two birds with one stone – get paid and get experience.
  4. Apply for scholarships. It’s free money, after all. Scholarships are out there for students of all ages — and yes, even for grad school.

But what about ...

Still unsure about going to grad school? Ask our experts by leaving a comment below.