3 Factors to Consider Before Applying to Grad School

Oct 31, 2019

By guest author Lauren Valdez 

Going to graduate school requires a significant investment of time, energy, and resources. You want to make sure grad school is right for you before you even start the application process. Many people will tell you, “Do this, don’t do that,” but, the best choice is the one you make for yourself. Consider these three factors when deciding if you should go to grad school.

1. Alignment

How aligned is this grad program with what you want to do, what you care about, and your future profession? 

When you read the program curriculum, the requirements, and the professors’ bios, is there a feeling inside your body like, “Yes! This program was made for me”? That’s high alignment. Or does it feel intimidating, daunting, or unexciting like, “Ugh… I’m already overwhelmed by reading the description of the program”? That means you’re not aligned with this particular program and might want to consider other options. You can also ask yourself, on a scale of 1-10, how excited are you about pursuing this grad program and profession? 

You also want to think about alignment with the profession. If you are dead set on becoming a doctor, you cannot move forward in that profession without going to med school. Of course, most career tracks are not that obvious. 

The good news is that there are often multiple paths to success and the career of your dreams. Some engineers, artists, and management consultants go to grad school, some go to training or certification programs, and some are self-taught. Artist-Entrepreneur Stephanie Echeveste has an excellent example of designing her own MFA/MBA. She is taking public art classes in NYC while doing fellowships to advance her skills and network without going to formal grad school. Your job is to do your background research and discover what pathway is going to be best for you. Consider the possibilities for moving forward in your career with or without graduate school.

2. Money

The second factor you want to consider is money. Grad school is a financial investment. 

When you are estimating the costs, take into account:

  • Tuition
  • Living expenses based on the location (Going to school in NYC is very different than Iowa)
  • Extra money for vacations and wedding travel
  • Deferring debt repayment, etc. 

Look into base salaries in your target career field using Glassdoor.com or Payscale.com to see if your future earnings are worth the grad school investment. 

Also, consider funding options from employers and scholarships. Some employers will pay for part-time master’s degree programs, while you continue working for them. In addition to school scholarships, check out ProFellow’s series on how to fully fund a Ph.D.

For example, if you are sure you want to be a teacher, getting a Master’s in Education is an excellent investment because generally the programs are only one year. You also start at an automatically higher base salary in the public school system with a master’s. It doesn’t even have to be a Master’s in Education; it can be in literature, science, etc.

Even if your program is fully funded, there are still lost earnings from the time you could be in a full-time job climbing the ranks. While in grad school, you are likely not contributing to a 401K, not saving towards a down payment on a house, etc. Depending on what stage of life you are in, these factors may be relevant or not matter at all, which takes us to the next factor. 

3. Timing

Grad school can be a considerable time commitment; you want to make sure it’s time well spent. There is a big difference between a 2-year professional degree and a 5-6 year Ph.D. Is the time worth it to you?

Additionally, you want to consider the timing in your life. Is it the right time, right now to go to grad school? 

If you are sure about getting a master’s after undergrad, then it might make sense to apply to grad school right away. If you are unsure, it’s better to save your money and time by gaining experience in a variety of fields to get a sense of what you like. “Experience” includes more than jobs – it also encompasses fellowships, internships, and auditing courses. 

Testing the Waters

If, after those three factors, you still have lingering doubts about plunging into grad school applications, then you want to take the car for a test drive before you buy it. There are a few ways you can get more certainty:

  • Talk to admissions staff and reach out to professors, current students, and alumni. Often, admission staff can put you in contact with professors and students. 
  • Talk to people who work in the field. See if they went to grad school and learn about their path. You can contact people through LinkedIn or mutual connections. Generally, people are generous in talking to people making career transitions. 
  • If it’s a field you have no experience in, test it out. You can try to find a job, internship, or fellowship. This will help you decide if you want to continue down this path or pivot. 

Finally, only you can decide what is right for you. If you are passionate about getting a graduate degree and are unsure about the money and timing, but it feels right for you, then go for it. If people are pressuring you to get a graduate degree, but it doesn’t feel right for you, then don’t do it.  

Lauren Valdez is a college success and career coach. Subscribe to her YouTube channel for more advice on figuring out your life path.

© Victoria Johnson 2019, all rights reserved