What’s next? It’s a difficult choice, particularly when you’re contemplating a decision to either enter the workforce upon graduation or jump right into a new degree program that would (presumably) enhance your credentials, yet increase your level of debt.
When deciding whether or not to apply to graduate school, consider the following important factors:
- WHY do I want to go to grad school? You should be considering a graduate program for the right reasons; avoiding the realities of a difficult job market or buying time while figuring out what you want to do with your life may not be the best reasons. Is there something out there that you feel incredibly strongly about? Is this an interest (or goal) that has stood the test of time, or is it something that’s only recently come to your attention? Be honest about your reasons for wanting to continue your education, and remember that an enormous amount of time, work and money will be part of your commitment.
- Will this degree make me a more marketable candidate? If you don’t know, then find out. Go on a couple of Informational Interviews with people who do the kind of work you’re interested in, and ask them for their honest opinion about your intended credentials. Talk to faculty members and career counselors for alternative perspectives, or do a title-search online; it’s possible that you can find an entry-point into your field of interest without an advanced degree, but you won’t know until you look.
- Do I have what it takes to complete another degree? Keeping in mind that graduate school will likely be more rigorous than your undergraduate program, consider whether you’re really up for the challenge. You might benefit from speaking with a first-year graduate student to find out what it’s really like; it’s always better to know what you’re getting into beforehand.
- Can I afford to go back to school right away? Talk to a financial aid counselor or lending institution to try to determine what your monthly loan payments will be after graduation; is it a figure you can realistically handle? Try to determine also what your earning potential will be with your added degree; is it significant enough to justify the expense? Finally, research your financial aid possibilities, including scholarships and assistantships which may help with the overall cost of your education. Cost alone usually isn’t enough to rule out graduate school, but it’s certainly an important element to consider.
- What are my other options? Is there a job out there that you could see yourself doing, even if only for a year or two? Better yet, is it likely that an employer could pay for your degree (or a portion of it) down the road? Before jumping into the grad school application process, make sure you do an earnest search for employment opportunities that require a bachelor’s degree. It’s difficult to make such an important decision without knowing exactly what your options are.
- If I decide to apply, when do I do it? Ideally, you should begin to research schools and programs during your Junior year of college. This is also the time that you want to begin obtaining application forms and financial aid information; make sure you’re aware of all important deadlines for returning paperwork. During your senior year, you’ll want to take the required graduate admission tests (GRE, LSAT, GMAT, MCAT, etc.) and begin drafting application essays. Make sure that you also request your letters of recommendation early on, so that your professors have plenty of time to get them completed and sent. All materials (application form, admission test reports, transcripts, letters of recommendation, financial aid applications, and essays) should be submitted during the first half of your senior year of college.
For more information regarding the graduate school application process, see our Grad School Timeline. To make an appointment with a career counselor, contact our office at 978-934-2355. It’s never too early to begin talking about your goals; good planning and research will ensure that you’re making a logical and well-informed decision.