Each year, many of our students and alumni make the decision to attend graduate school. If you think this might be the path for you, it is essential that you discuss your interest with faculty members at Yale who can give you the best advice on programs, funding, trends and the academic job market.
Before you begin researching programs or preparing application materials, you first need to reflect on your motivations for pursuing a graduate degree and honestly assess what you’re hoping to gain and why you feel a
graduate degree is the right course of action. The decision to pursue an advanced degree should not be taken lightly. Graduate School is a tremendous investment of time, energy, and financial resources. Use the questions below to begin the reflection process; see also our I Might Be Interested in Graduate School presentation and associated Prezi.
Why do you feel you are ready to pursue a graduate degree? Are you committed to a specific field of study?
What are your personal and professional goals, and how will a graduate degree help you achieve these goals?
Are you pursuing this degree for yourself or to satisfy the expectations of others?
In what ways might you benefit from a year or two of work experience before graduate school?
Are you willing and able to make the necessary financial commitment to support graduate school?
Examine your reasons carefully. Are they logical? How committed are you? Think about your future career; what degree will best prepare you for that career? What type of educational preparation will be most valuable? Talk with professionals in your field of interest to gauge how the different degree options may be viewed by those in the field. You may find that there are a number of paths that will help you reach your intended destination, especially if focusing on careers outside of academia.
For those who are ready and committed, graduate school can move you one step closer to achieving your professional goals. If you don’t yet know what those goals are, you may want to consider taking time to clarify your goals before pursuing graduate study. Graduate programs vary widely in terms of their focus, size, and financial resources. Even programs within the same discipline may have a very different focus. For instance, certain programs focus on training practitioners or clinicians, while others focus on preparing students for careers in academia or research. You need to have a clear understanding of your goals and intended outcomes prior to choosing programs to ensure you direct your efforts towards researching and applying to programs that fit your intentions.
You’ve been in school for a significant portion of your life, and you’ve been successful in that arena. It’s comfortable and familiar. The job market, for many people, can be a source of anxiety, especially if you’re not sure what your options are or how to begin the process of finding a job. Pursuing a graduate degree to avoid the job market is not the answer. In the short-term it may seem like a good idea, but in the long run it may not help you get any closer to figuring out your goals or career path. Even worse is finding out after you complete a graduate degree that your degree will not qualify you for the positions you’re interested in, or that your degree will not give you a leg up in the fields you’re targeting
The decision to pursue a graduate degree should be yours and not impacted by the expectations of others. You’re the one who will need to put in the time and energy engaging in in-depth study of your chosen discipline. You’re the one who will need to complete a thesis, dissertation, or fieldwork. And you’re the one whose future will be most directly impacted by the decision to pursue or not pursue a graduate degree and what you choose to study. Though others may have advice or opinions, ultimately the decision needs to be yours.
When is the right time to pursue a graduate degree? This is a common question among students. There isn’t one answer to this question because there are many variables that you need to take into account.
Are you ready to go into graduate school right after you finish your undergraduate degree? This is a very individual question, and the answer depends on your goals and your own personal situation. There are many reasons students choose to take time off before pursuing a graduate degree. These include the desire to gain practical work experience and explore career options before committing to a specific field of study; needing or wanting to take a break from academic study to avoid burnout; or to save money for graduate study. Others are ready and motivated to go straight into graduate study right after completing their undergraduate degree. In certain disciplines, such as those that require deeply academic and intellectual work, it may be advantageous to pursue graduate study immediately after completing your undergraduate degree.
Depending on your field of study, work experience may be necessary to make you a competitive candidate. In some cases, work experience is a pre-requisite. A foundation of practical skills may also allow you to make a stronger contribution to graduate-level work. Also, depending on your career goals, a graduate degree may be a nice learning experience for you, but it may not be necessary in fields that value on-the-job learning and experience.
A few common concerns we hear from students are that delaying graduate study may derail plans to obtain an advanced degree, that it will be more difficult to get back in the academic routine after taking time off, or that it will look poorly on applications. For those who are committed to obtaining an advanced degree and invested in the subject they intend to study, taking time off will not derail your plans. If you are passionate about your field of study, you are also likely to stay up-to-date by reading book and journal articles in your spare time; if you find that you don’t enjoy staying engaged with your field of study in your free time, that may also be an indicator that your passion for the field, and advanced study in that area, is waning.
Staying up-to-date will also help minimize concerns from application committees about your time away from school, and demonstrate to them that you have the current knowledge and unwavering desire to engage in in- depth study within your field of interest. With every transition there is a period of adjustment; getting back into the swing of classes, writing papers, and engaging in academic research after working for a period of time will be an adjustment, but one that can be easily overcome if the motivation is there.
Tip: The Office of Career Strategy serves to supplement the advice of the faculty by focusing on how your decision integrates with your overall career goals, by supporting you through the application process, and by providing helpful resources to you.