Why Graduate School?
What is Graduate School All About?
In contrast to undergraduate study which introduces you to a wide range of subjects, even though you major in one, a graduate program involves specialized knowledge and concentrated study in one area.
There are professional and research degrees at the master's and doctoral levels:
- The Professional Master's gives you a specific set of skills needed to practice in a particular field, such as education, business, engineering or other profession requiring specialized training. It is generally a final or "terminal" degree, and often involves an internship, practicum or field work.
- The Research Master's provides experience in research and scholarship, and it may be a final degree or a step toward the Ph.D. A master's degree usually takes one or two years of study.
- The Professional Doctorate. The M.D. for medical practice or the J.D. for law are the most common professional degrees.
- The Research Doctorate. The Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) is the primary credential for college level teaching. The Ph.D. typically involves both course work and a major research project. The Ph.D. usually takes a minimum of four to six years of full-time study.
Career Options with a Graduate Degree
The Master's Degree. The Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) can be an entry point for new and better job opportunities in business, industry, government, and education.
In education, for instance, it can open doors to teaching, administration and staff positions in elementary and secondary schools, community colleges and other institutions of higher learning.
The Doctorate Degree. The traditional career for recipients of the doctorate degree is college teaching and research. The Ph.D., however, can lead to a wide variety of career options in corporations where research and development of new product s or services are important, or with government agencies where the skill to analyze large amounts of complex data is essential.
For example, statisticians work for the Census Bureau, psychologists work for advertising firms, historians work for museums, and chemists, engineers, physicists and other scientists may work in science-based industries or government-funded research laboratories.
Is Graduate School Right For You?
What are your motivations for attending graduate school? Be honest with yourself. Do not go to graduate school out of fear of having no other options. Choose graduate school because you are working toward a goal, not looking for "an easy way out".
Graduate school will probably turn out to be a satisfying and valuable experience if:
- You have a clear sense of the career you want to pursue, and if an advanced degree is the ticket to entry into that field. College and university teaching and research, law, medicine and dentistry are areas in which education beyond the baccalaureate level is required.
- You want to immerse yourself in the study of a particular academic discipline purely for the love of it, and would never forgive yourself if you did not at least give it a try. Remember, you will be spending several years studying and doing research and work in that academic field.
Think twice if you're considering grad school solely for one of the following reasons:
- You haven't decided what kind of career you want to pursue and regard the campus as a sheltered place to "find yourself".
This view is common and acceptable for undergraduates. It can present a real problem at the postgraduate level where students are expected to have clearly defined interests leading to an area of specialization.
- You're getting pressure from your friends, parents or professors. Your interests and motivation in attending graduate school are what's really important.
- You're doing it simply to postpone the inevitable job search. Remember, a graduate degree is no guarantee of a job.
- You think there's nothing you can do "with a major in..." Regardless of your major, keep in mind that your undergraduate education has equipped you with many skills that are highly valued in the workplace, such as research and analysis, critical thinking, and communications.
In deciding whether to pursue an advanced degree, you may wish to carefully consider some important questions:
- What do I want to accomplish in my lifetime?
- What are my long-term and short-range professional goals?
- Is graduate school necessary for me to achieve these goals?
- Do I have the interest and ability to succeed in a graduate program?
- By going to graduate school, am I simply delaying my career planning and decision-making?
- Will the amount of time and money spent on a program ultimately translate into greater career mobility and financial possibilities?
- Am I willing to meet the extensive research, course work and major paper demands of another academic program?
- Would continuing education alternatives, such as University Extension, vocational school and community college courses, or professional seminar and workshops assist in achieving my goals?
Graduate School: Now or Later?
Should you go straight to graduate school? There are no hard and fast rules. It is a good idea to talk with faculty, prospective employers, and students currently pursuing programs of interest to you, in order to hear their perspectives on the advantages of immediate vs. delayed entry into graduate school.
You may want to consider these questions before making your decision:
- Are you reasonably sure of your career goals, or is there a strong possibility that you could change your mind after a taste of the working world?
- Would related work experience help you clarify ambiguous career goals?
- Is an advanced degree a prerequisite to your chosen career? The doctorate is mandatory for practicing medicine or law, for example.
- How much will your job and salary prospects be enhanced by a graduate degree? The master' degree recipient almost always commands a higher yearly rate of pay. A $3,000-$4,000 differential is common, while in some technical disciplines $6,000-$8,000 is not uncommon.
- Would you have difficulty readjusting to student life after a break?
- Do you have a strong GPA? Would work experience enhance your application credentials by offsetting mediocre grades or test scores? In the case of some professional schools, admissions committees are generally as interested in your work background as in your "numbers".
- Will it be easier to enter grad school in your field directly after college or after gaining work experience?
- What are the direct and indirect costs of graduate school? Include the cost of the program and books, living expenses and loss of income while you're in school.
- Is there a possibility that a future employer might pay for you to attend graduate school?
Combining Work and Graduate School
- Many recent graduates, strapped with sizable debts from their undergraduate college years, forego the pursuit of an advanced degree and look for employment as soon as possible.
- The solution is finding employment with major corporations that offer tuition assistance programs as part of their benefits package. These programs allow employees to take courses and earn master's degrees at nearby colleges or universities while they advance their careers.
- Numerous corporations provide 100% assistance for tuition and fees for credit courses. Interestingly, tuition reimbursement remains an underused benefit. A recent survey by Hewitt Associates shows that only 7 percent of employees take advantage of company plans that pay for job-related courses.
- Some companies combine the tuition assistance benefit with a "front-pay" option that allows direct billing from the college to the corporation, eliminating the need for out-of-pocket expenses. Other companies allow employees to apply for upfront advances on 50 percent of tuition costs.
- Usually, classes must be taken during evenings or weekends to qualify for assistance.