College life: How to decide if graduate school is right for you

Deciding to apply for and attend graduate school is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Perhaps you’re nearing the end of your undergraduate program, or maybe you’ve just started and like planning ahead. There are important questions to ask yourself (and a counselor) about whether graduate school is right for you. College life is full of important decisions and you’ll want to do your research before applying to grad school.

Where to begin

Everyone’s path will be different and you’ll need to decide why you’re considering grad school. For me, I wanted to switch paths a bit and get my teaching certificate in special education. For my alma mater, this program is tied into a master’s program, and once I’m certified to teach I’ll be about 1/3 of the way done with the master’s program as well. Not a bad deal. For your program of consideration, it may be slightly different.

As the Indiana University Graduate School discusses on their website, to determine if graduate school is right for you, ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I want to go to graduate school?
  • What will I give up by attending?
  • What will I gain by attending?
  • Is this the right time for me to apply?

These may seem like simple questions to answer, but really take the time to analyze each one carefully. If you’re going into a field that requires a higher-level degree, then yes, graduate school is the right choice. However, if you’re just not sure what to do after you’re finished with your undergrad, you’ll probably end up dropping out before you finish.

To keep in mind

With the unemployment rate still growing, the future can be a scary one as you’re nearing graduation. There will always be certain programs that pay significantly more and offer better employment opportunities if you have a master’s degree. Forbes writer Kurt Badenhausen “set out to determine which master’s degrees would provide the best opportunities, based on salary and employment, over the next decade.” He compiled a list of the “Best Master’s Degrees For Jobs” in his May 19, 2010 article. According to Badenhausen, the top best master’s degrees are:

  1. Physician Assistant Studies: Mid-career median pay: $98,900
  2. Computer Science: Mid-career median pay: $111,000
  3. Civil Engineering: Mid-career median pay: $98,700
  4. Mathematics: Mid-career median pay: $96,900
  5. Physics: Mid-career median pay: $110,000

The top worst master’s degrees for jobs:

  1. Speech Pathology: Mid-career median pay: $72,100
  2. Accounting: Mid-career median pay: $89,900
  3. Social Work: Mid-career median pay: $56,200
  4. Psychology: Mid-career median pay: $64,500
  5. Library and Information Science: Mid-career median pay: $57,200

Reasons NOT to go to grad school

A clever anonymous blogger is spending time compiling a list of 100 reasons that you shouldn’t go to graduate school. To date, there are 87 reasons so far posted on the blog titled 100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School. Reason number 9, as suggested by the author, is “It is very, very hard.” The author writes, “Courses require time and effort. Comprehensive exams require time and effort. Theses and/or dissertations require time and effort… All of this must be done while making ends meet.” This I can definitely understand: If you’re not working full time while in graduate school and you’re not living on a trust fund, then you’re taking out massive amounts of student loans. Reason 78: “It takes a toll on your health.” True: your diet, your immune system, and your financial health will all take a nose-dive as you make your way through your graduate program. And, reason number 19: “These are the best years of your life.” Do you really want to spend them with your nose in the books for another two to three years? You might go to graduate school after you’ve tried “two or three or four things first.”

Now that you’ve got enough information to help you make an informed decision, you should probably take a break and unwind. The decision to attend grad school is something you should keep in the back of your mind as you work through your undergraduate degree. You may even want to keep it in mind as you’re work through your first job out of school. Might further education steer your career in a more rewarding direction? Consider these tips as you begin shaping your future!

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