Should You Go?
Everything you wanted or needed to know about making the leap to graduate school - including the questions you should ask yourself before heading down the academic road.
You're contemplating graduate school. Why? Most likely your answer is to further professional or personal development, or a combination of both. Either way, you need to honestly assess the projected quality of your life during graduate study, as well as what changes can be counted on after school is behind you. But the whole process of supporting yourself financially and emotionally throughout grad school is costly, and demands your attention from the start.
A few things to think about:
- Can you afford the price tag without going into debt?
- If you must borrow, what is a rough estimate of your monthly pay back?
- Can you afford the focus necessary to attend a full-time program?
- If finances dictate prolonged part-time or night-class enrollment, have you the patience and stamina to follow through?
- Will the possible increase in future salary garnered through an advanced degree offset the costs incurred?
- And, does any of the above matter given your passion to return to school?
Where to Begin?
College career centers are valuable resources at this stage of your search. For example, they compile fact sheets that can help you assess the school's success at preparing students for the job market, how many students found employment after graduation, and what they earn. Here's a good site for career-exploration links.
Now, or Later?
More folks with undergraduate degrees are entering the hot job market and putting off the question of graduate school. Hot jobs or not, this sort of delay is always a possibility, and in many cases a sound idea. Many graduate programs value a prospective student with valid work experience. However, sustaining momentum is a critical issue.
College Web sites will give you a sense of the whole institution and its location. Because a graduate program is typically rated separately from the university with which it is affiliated, you should focus your research on the reputation of the program itself that you are interested in and the faculty associated with it. College career centers are great places to start; they can answer your questions and further direct you to sources of information related to your particular interests.
Some questions to ask:
- What and where have the director and key professors published?
- How are they and the program regarded within the broader academic community?
- What's the state of technology available to the program and how current is the library?
How does the graduate school rank compared to other similar programs? (U.S. News & World Report is a comprehensive site that includes thorough ratings of graduate schools, as well as comparisons of programs and FAQs - check it out).
Money and How to Get It
Your chances of increased financial aid are greater if you wait to secure all possible offers. A school may be encouraged to raise the ante if they know another has promised a larger package. And although assistantships can be a critical means of support, make sure you know the parameters of the arrangement and that you are clear about expectations with regard to numbers of students under your supervision and/or time spent in research.
How to Apply
You can download applications from most college Web sites, or call the admissions office and request one. Embark.com is a site that, among other things, allows you to query several graduate schools and apply online. However, the entire process is likely to be a lengthy one involving research, campus visits and admissions policy restrictions, so plan plenty of wiggle room.
The Dreaded Test
Most programs require them. The good news is that many sources are available to help you prepare, and take the jitters out of the experience. A number of test-prep sites offer assistance for the GRE General Test, the GRE Writing Assessment and the GRE subject tests, which measure achievement in 14 different fields.Barron's publishes an excellent and thorough guide for navigating your way through these tests, and Kaplan and GRE Powerprep both offer software that provides actual computer diagnostic tests.
Also, gre.org provides tests, publications, and services to students.
Apart from the value of nuts-and-bolts academic achievement and the promise of a better job, the graduate school experience can clarify and broaden understanding of your deepest priorities, often those yet to be recognized.
Also of interest: Timing is Everything, Part-Time vs. Full-Time, Affording It, Women on the Verge.