5 Ways to Determine if Graduate School is Right For You

Graduate school provides specialized training for an industry you want to work in and professional connections, but it also challenges you both mentally and emotionally. It is not for spontaneous learners who are looking for academic bragging rights. Graduate school is rigorous – it involves hard work, research, writing, reading, problem-solving and substantial financial commitments.

For those of you who are on the fence about whether or not graduate school is right for you, consider the following elements before you invest time and energy in a master’s, professional or doctorate program.

  1. The Benefits of Graduate School

As we all know, graduate school is both costly, time consuming and meant for those serious about their studies. Prior to preparing for admission, you need to have a clear understanding of how a graduate degree will benefit you. In some cases, there are obvious reasons for certain careers that require an advanced degree, such as doctors or lawyers. If this is not the case, ask yourself: why am I considering a graduate degree?

Some people are may be interested in obtaining a graduate degree to increase their earning potential. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), median earnings of young adults with a master’s or higher degree was $59,100 in 2014, some 18 percent higher than the median earnings of young adults with a bachelor’s degree.

Others may consider a graduate degree in order to keep their skills current, make themselves more marketable for career advancement, to change careers, or to have more credibility in their chosen field. If you are feeling pressure from your family, are not sure what else to do, or simply want to delay going into the workforce, we strongly recommend that instead you spend time working on self-assessment and revisit the idea of graduate school at a later time.

  1. Timing

Many people know from the start why they want to go to graduate school, but then struggle with the best time to do so. Is it better to enroll in graduate school right after completing your bachelor’s degree, or should you obtain work and life experience prior? Both are valid options and have different benefits.

The benefits of going to graduate school right after earning your bachelor’s degree:

  • You are focused and have momentum;
  • You have few obligations;
  • Your career of interest requires an advanced degree for an “entry level” role.

The benefits to obtain work/life experience prior to graduate school:

  • You have clarity in your career goals;
  • The program you are interested in requires work experience;
  • Your employer is willing to support your graduate school expenses;
  • You are more mature and mentally ready to commit to a rigorous program.
  1. Types of Graduate Degrees

The main types of graduate degrees are master’s, professional and doctoral. In addition, universities also offer many combined-degrees and certificate programs. Consider the following graduate degrees to determine which may be best for you:

Master’s: Master’s degree programs are offered in a wide range of fields. Master’s degrees can be professional or academic. Professional degrees, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA), are designed for employment or advancement within a given field. Academic degrees, such as a Master of Arts, are intended for intellectual growth and often are a prerequisite for doctoral work within a given field. Master’s degrees tend to take 1–3 years to complete.

Professional Degree: Professional degrees, such as the Doctor of Medicine (MD) and the Juris Doctor (JD), emphasis the practical application of knowledge and skills. Professional degrees can take 2–5 years to complete.

Doctorate: Doctoral degrees, the highest earned academic degree, can also be professional or academic. The Doctor of Philosophy Degree (Ph.D.) is on advancing knowledge through original research in a given academic field. Doctorates may take 3–6 years to complete.

  1. Cost

Similar to college, in graduate school you will not only have tuition to pay for, but also you will have the expense of academic materials (books, tests, applications, etc.) and living costs (housing, food, electricity, travel, etc.). For an Ivy League graduate program, tuition can range anywhere from $61,000 (Princeton University tuition for 2016-2017) to $66,000 (Columbia tuition for 2015-2016).

It is important to consider cost into the equation, but not to let it defeat your decision. Each program has many financial aid resources, not to mention there numerous ways to obtain financial support. You should start by speaking with a financial aid adviser at the schools that interest you most. Keep in mind that most graduate programs also offer fellowships for teaching or research assistance, and if you’re currently employed, your employer may have a tuition reimbursement program.

  1. Graduate Programs

Graduate school is not just an extension of your learning, but it also an experience and environment in which you will spend the next 2 to 6 years. Each graduate program has its own set of traits and culture that is unique to that university. When deciding on which programs you would like to apply to, ask yourself: what type of learning and student experience am I seeking? Think about the type of environment, both academically and geographically, that you would suite you most.

Graduate school is a big step in your professional and academic career. Before taking that big leap of faith and preparing for admissions, be honest with yourself and speak to those who have gone through the process. Once you are ready, Ivy Advisors is here as a resource. From pre-application strategy to post-interview reflection, our admissions consultants are graduates from top tier institutions such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and other notable schools. We not only understand the culture of the schools, but also the admissions process, and we are here to help you every step of the way.


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