It’s no secret that deciding to attend graduate school is a huge responsibility. Getting a graduate degree may open up numerous personal and professional opportunities, but it all comes with a price tag (and opportunity cost).
Will you look back after graduation and regret your advanced degree? Maybe, but that’s all the more reason to soul-search first to figure out what you want your life to look like post-graduation.
Know Your Goals
Does the field you’re looking to go into require grad school? Could you work for a few years and then make a more informed decision? Talk to people who work in your chosen career field, and ask them about their schooling:
- How many of them attended grad school?
- Did their employer pay for some or all of it?
Grad school may seem like a logical next step, especially if you need it for a field such as dentistry, optometry, physical therapy, social work, psychology, library science, school counseling, or becoming a lawyer.
But what if you’re just finishing up your Bachelor’s in Education? You might want to hold off on going to grad school right away. A lot of times schools have a set salary scale and might not hire you if you have limited experience and a master’s degree, because they’d have to pay you more for no experience. Spend some time in the field working first before determining your next steps.
Most importantly, you should have a clear career goal with realistic expectations. What is your ultimate dream job position, and what is the path that gets you there? Obviously, your life can and probably will change, but without a clear vision for your future, you will struggle to figure out the stepping stones needed to get you to that position.
Check Your Finances
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is my plan for paying down student loans from undergrad, and do I feel comfortable taking on debt for grad school?
- Will going to graduate school significantly increase my earning potential? (This may not matter to you right now, but it’ll help you pay back your student loans quicker!)
Look into graduate assistantships and teaching opportunities within the program you’re considering. Many positions like this offer stipends, in addition to free or reduced tuition. But these positions are VERY competitive, so make sure you find a way to stand out on your application.
Do you want to pay full price for school, or would you only attend if you were offered a fellowship, assistantship, stipend, or teaching opportunity? Some advanced degree programs offer scholarships, and you could apply for financial aid.
But if your plan is to take out $30,000 in student loans for graduate school, maybe give it some more thought. Is there a way you could reduce the amount you have to take out? Could you delay going to grad school until you have some more money saved up? Could you start working for a company that offers tuition reimbursement after a certain period of time?
Fortunately, many graduate programs offer flexible options. You could attend grad school part-time during the day, in the evenings, or on the weekends. This option may be more feasible for you if you have a family or are currently working, but it could take you about twice as long to graduate. However, some graduate programs may be so strenuous that you may have to cut back on your working hours.
Fully Online or Blended
A fully online or blended program may work better for you if you live farther away from the school you’d like to attend or if you have a lot of existing commitments: a family or a career working full or part-time. As long as you network, learn, attend lectures, and collaborate with your peers and professors, an online grad program could be a great option for anyone looking for an advanced degree.
Family Impact and Obligations
How does grad school impact your (and your family’s, partner’s, etc.) life plan? Do you want to have kids right away? Can you make that work with graduate school and paying for childcare? Do you and your partner want to travel for a while before settling down? Maybe you could consider an online program. You certainly can do anything you set your mind to. Just write out, make a plan, and figure out your timeline first to see how graduate school factors into your life and career goals.
Final Grad School Thoughts
If you have the time, finances, drive, or career aspirations to make grad school a priority, then by all means go for it! We’re not saying grad school is the wrong decision. You just need to weigh all the factors that go into this decision to see what best fits into your life.
- Do some research into the career paths of the alumni of a potential grad program you’re looking into. Can you see yourself in their shoes when your program is finished?
- Talk to professors about the courses and maybe shadow a class to see if it’s the right teaching style.
- Take a look at the curriculum and class scheduling to see if you could make the time commitment fit into your existing schedule.
Really try to get a feel for the program before you commit. At the end of the day, deciding to go to graduate school and whether it’s worth it for you is a decision only you can make.