Planning to attend graduate school next year? Advancing your education involves preparation and a realization of your goals. Here are six questions that you should ask yourself. They can assist you in making the transition and connecting all of the dots.
- What would I like to pursue? Getting a master’s degree is achieving a specification in a particular discipline—so if, for some reason, you didn’t like your undergraduate courses (because you had to take that pesky philosophy class or more history classes than you wanted) the good news is that in graduate school the classes you attend will focus on your preferred subject. However, you better like what you are aiming for because you will get plenty of it. So the first goal is to figure out what you like best.
- Location, location, location! Do I want to be close to home or out of state? Perhaps your major isn’t offered near your home town or maybe the school that’s offering you the best package is somewhere far way – either way you must consider what is best for you. Are you okay with being away from family and friends and starting all over in a completely new environment? Does the sound of continuing your education close to what you now call home appeal to you? Whatever you decide upon, just don’t forget to factor in this important element.
- How will you pay for school? Are you going to use loans, fellowships, scholarships, employer contributions, employer reimbursement or an assistantship? Graduate school can be very expensive so before you say “I do” be sure you check out all available funding sources. Personally, I believe if you position yourself correctly and you are okay with making a few sacrifices (supervising resident assistants, moving away, etc.) you can minimize, if not totally eliminate, the cost of graduate school.
- What are the application requirements? Do you need the GRE, GMAT, LSAT or just good grades? Be sure to know exactly what is required so your application is not stalled in the process. Remember, if your application is stalled, other opportunities like obtaining an assistantship may be stalled as well.
- How many years of postgraduate education do you need? Is it two, three or seven years? Which appeals to you? Law school usually takes three years, graduate school for your master’s degree will take anywhere from two to three years. A PhD or medical school can take anywhere from five to eight years. Of course, with a PhD, it all depends upon your dissertation. No matter what you choose it will take time. Be clear about how much time you want to spend working on your graduate degree.
- How rigorous is the program? Not all programs are created equal. If you are planning to go into a research-related field or you want to become part of an exclusive law firm, the type of institution you attend is very important, not to mention the kind of mentoring and research opportunities you will have access to. Choose wisely. On the other hand, if you just need to get a master’s degree or a PhD in order to advance in your career, I think you have room to be less selective. In this case, it will probably be more important to have the degree as opposed to where it is from.