Graduate School

Why Graduate School?

Before researching programs or preparing application materials, first 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:

  • 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 the 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? Talk with professionals in your field of interest to gauge how different degree options are viewed — you may also find there are a variety of paths to reach your intended destination. Overall, you need a clear understanding of your goals before applying and ultimately choosing a program. OCS can serve to supplement the advice of the faculty by focusing on how your decision integrates with your overall career goals and by supporting you through the application process.

Reasons *NOT* to go to Graduate School

  • You’ve been in school for a significant portion of your life, and you’ve been successful. It’s comfortable and familiar.
  • The job market can be a source of anxiety, especially if you’re not sure of your options or how to begin the process. 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 you may not be any closer to figuring out your career path. Even worse is finding out after you complete a graduate degree that the degree will not qualify you for a position of interest, or that the degree will not be an added benefit in the field.
  • 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 to complete the thesis, dissertation, or fieldwork. And it is your future that is most directly impacted by this decision and what you choose to study. Though others may have advice or opinions, remember the decision needs to be yours.

*WHEN* to go to Graduate School

When is the right time to pursue a graduate degree? This is a common question among students and the answer varies for each applicant.

Taking Time Off

There are many reasons students choose to take time off before pursuing a graduate degree, including gaining practical work experience and exploring career options before committing to a field of study; needing or wanting to take a break from academic study to avoid burnout; or saving money for graduate study. Others are ready and motivated to go straight into graduate study, and that’s okay too.

Getting Work Experience

Depending on your field of study, work experience may be necessary to make you a competitive candidate. A foundation of practical skills may enable 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 experience.

A Few Common Concerns

We sometimes hear from students that delaying graduate study may derail their plans to get an advanced degree, that it will be more difficult to get back in the academic routine, or that it will look poorly on applications. For those who are committed to obtaining an advanced degree and invested in that subject, taking time off will not derail your plans. If you are passionate about the field, you are likely to stay up-to-date through your own research and readings. If you find that you are not motivated to stay engaged with the field in your free time, it may be an indicator that your interest in the 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 knowledge and desire to engage in deep study. Overall, 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.

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