After spending so much of our lives on a conveyer belt of schooling, jumping right into graduate studies after finishing college often seems like the next logical step.
But for many students, that’s not always the smartest move, says Linda Abraham, founder and president of admissions consulting company, Accepted.com.
Abraham walked us through what students should consider before making the decision to pursue a graduate degree.
1. What’s your end goal?
Unless you’re wealthy enough to be studying medieval Chinese poetry just for the heck of it, the primary consideration when applying to graduate school should be where you want to end up, says Abraham. “Maybe you want to become a researcher, or get an MBA to go into consulting, or you want to teach history in high school,” she explains. “Either way, you should always have a professional end in mind.”
And the statement-of-purpose essay — one of the many requirements of the application process — is a great way to discover whether or not you have a legitimate postgraduation goal. If you can’t sit down and write that out without some sense of clarity, it’s probably worth reconsidering, says Abraham.
2. What specifics does the school offer?
Students should be thorough when considering all that a school has to offer, says Abraham. If you’re hoping to pursue a master’s in history to become a community college professor, that means outlining exactly which aspects of that school’s history program appeal to you, explains the admissions consultant.
“Is there some professor doing really interesting work about an era that you’re specifically interested in? Is there some teaching component in addition to the history master’s that’s going to help you be a better teacher, or some combination that gives you the ability to take classes in the education department of the university?” she continues. Overall, “it’s important to have a specific goal, and be able to articulate your purpose in applying to that program,” she says.
3. Have you tested this career path?
Before deciding on a graduate degree, prospective students should have tested out the field in some way, says Abraham. Getting a good feel “requires taking jobs or internships before starting graduate study that allow you to experience the atmosphere, at least, if not the actual work you would end up doing,” she says.
Sure, some people might be extremely directed and guided from the very start, “but even those applicants should at least spend summers doing work that’s related to what they think is their lifelong vision or career that they want to pursue,” Abraham says.
4. Is this financially responsible?
Running through a cost-benefit analysis is crucial when considering whether or not to pursue a graduate degree. “[Students] are going to invest x amount of years, forgo so much income, and pay however much in out of pocket tuition expenses,” she says, so the question becomes, “Will they get a job afterwards that’s going to pay back that debt?
“If the likelihood is yes, then fine, but if the likelihood is no, they have to ask themselves, ‘Will I derive enough satisfaction from these studies and from whatever position I’m going to be in later, that I’m willing to spend the money and the time anyway?’ ”