Graduate school is no small feat. Given the workload and pressure to succeed, it requires a lot out of you emotionally and financially. Therefore, it’s worth taking a considerable amount of time deciding if and when graduate school is in your future.
Deciding if you should go to graduate school is a big question unto itself, so it’s worth spending a fair amount of time answering this first. It’s an intensely personal decision, but know that there are some generally agreed upon “good” reasons to go to graduate school, and generally agreed upon “bad reasons”
The “good” reasons to go to graduate school center around the basic idea of whether or not you’re required to go for your career. Three prime examples of career paths that require a graduate degree are as follows:
- A career path that requires certifications, such as for doctors or lawyers
- An academic in any field
- A researcher, in or out of academia
In essence, if you want to work at a high level within your chosen field, you need the credentials to be able to do so. You’ll never get a job as a lawyer without a law degree, or as a professor at a higher institution without a higher degree yourself.
However, these are not the only instances where it may be prudent to go to graduate school. In some fields, a graduate degree can raise your earning potential in your field. Do some research and ask within your network to find out if this applies to your chosen field. Also find out if you have an employer who will pay for you to go to graduate school. Graduate school, more often than not, is not worth going into debt for, so if you can go all expenses paid, then that should be an important factor into your decision.
Finally, if you’re looking to switch careers to a field that requires some sort of degree in that field, graduate school may be for you. Even if it’s a field that doesn’t require a graduate degree, if your college degree is wholly unrelated, a graduate degree can be a quick way to get you on track to your newly chosen field. Make sure to do you research though to find out if a degree in your new field is truly required, or just recommended.
While the “good” reasons to go to graduate school focused around some sort of professional need, the “bad” reasons to go to graduate school focus around any uncertainties you may have.
For example, while college students are often encouraged to pursue a wide range of interests, graduate school is a time to become hyperfocused. If you’re not ready to buckle down, or if you need to explore the world of possibilities further, you’re much better off exploring your interests out in the world rather than in graduate school.
Similarly, if you find yourself interested in a particular topic and simply want to explore it more, you might be better off holding off on graduate school until you’re certain about it. You can explore new fields through volunteer work, reading books on the subject, or even through work experience. You’ll save a lot of time and money this way.
Another “bad” reason to go to graduate school includes if you’re having difficulty finding a job in your field. While graduate school may increase your employment opportunities, it also might not. Find out first if there are other reasons that would explain your difficulty finding a job in your field, such as being in the wrong location for it, or if your resume is weak in other ways.
On a related note, some recent college graduates may get out into the real world and find themselves disillusioned with how difficult things can be out there, or they may want to put the real world off altogether by going to graduate school right out of college. If you’re anxious about progressing in a relationship, nervous about finding a job, or just generally want to stay in the bubble of higher education, remember that you’ll have to face these issues head on at some point anyway. Avoiding them through graduate school could be an emotionally and financially taxing mistake.
When to Go
Once you’ve decided that graduate school is, in fact, in your future, then you need to decide when to go. Your two choices basically consist of going right away, or waiting a few years and then returning to school after some time in the workforce.
If you decide to apply right out of college, know that you’ll be up against people who have been in the workforce, and graduate programs like to see real world experience on an application. That doesn’t mean you can’t go to graduate school right away if you’re certain it’s what you want or need to do. It’s simply important to recognize this obstacle.
If you’re on the fence in any way about graduate school, wait a bit and get out into the world first. You’ll develop a better sense of whether or not you want - or even need - to attend. Many careers, especially in liberal arts fields, do not require a higher degree to find success.
Just like anything in life, there’s never going to be a “right” time. You may also never be certain about whether graduate school is the right choice for you. Graduate school is a big life decision though, so no matter what you decide, know that time spent thinking about it is not time wasted. If nothing else, you may learn a lot about yourself and what you want out of life by asking and answering these kinds of questions.