By Jenny Han Simon
Continuing your education by choosing to pursue a graduate degree can be a wonderful adventure, but it’s not always necessary, and the road to successfully obtaining a graduate degree is rarely ever seamless.
The benefits of an academic graduate degree often include the potential to earn more money, specialization in your field, and boosting your hiring potential. However, choosing to attend graduate school is a serious decision that will require you to invest your time and probably some money. While everybody’s journey and desires for going to graduate school are surely unique, here are three questions you should consider if you’re on the fence:
1. Is there something else I NEED to be doing?
Firstly, if you currently have the choice to decide whether or not to attend graduate school, congratulations! Not only does this mean you have perhaps found a subject or field you’re interested in and want to pursue, but it also means you are likely in a comfortable enough position in your life where you can seriously consider and attend to your academic and professional ambitions before other financial and personal obligations.
Because of the time, money, and energy that are typical on the path to completing a graduate degree, you may have to invest a lot before any expected return. So, ask yourself: Can I afford to make this investment? Is there something else that needs my attention more? For example, people with children or someone to take care of will need to consider the financial costs and time commitment of graduate school more carefully than your typical 22-year-old college graduate. On the other hand, there are also many programs that fully fund their Ph.D. students—so make sure you consider all options.
Just because right now might not be the perfect time for you to attend grad school doesn’t mean that grad school is not for you! Taking care of what needs to be done at this point in your life will put you in a better place for when you do eventually begin your graduate work, increasing your chances of success in the future. If now is the ideal time for you, it’s time to start preparing!
2. How will a graduate degree shape my career path?
One of the biggest advantages a graduate degree will offer you is better job prospects. This usually includes a higher salary and more job titles and opportunities, amongst other things. Although the experience of graduate school and furthering your education may be transformational and rewarding experiences on their own, think of graduate school as an investment: What sorts of returns will you see? Is it necessary to obtain certain skills or your dream job?
Deciding whether or not to go to grad school in order to advance your career goals is easier for some candidates than others. While professional degrees are a necessary investment for certain fields, like law and medicine, it is less straightforward for academic degrees. Simply put: you cannot become a surgeon without attending medical school and getting a Doctorate of Medicine (MD.), but you don’t need a Ph.D. for every job or to be considered successful in most fields.
3. Could I live without going to grad school?
It is important to consider the actual experience of graduate school and what your day-to-day life for the next few years may be like as a graduate student. As with anything worth pursuing there will be many challenges, stressors, and moments of doubt. However, If you find yourself constantly returning to the question, “Should I go to grad school?”, then it’s a good indication that you really want to go. Whether it’s the classroom environment you crave, working closely with an advisor, research and learning, following your passion, or becoming a specialist in your field, etc., the experience of furthering your education is something that some people cannot live without. If that’s you, the right graduate program could be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
“But what if there are other things I want to do?” you might ask. Other opportunities, such as travel and work experience, may seem incredibly enticing as well, and they also be things you couldn’t live without. It’s perfectly okay to try multiple avenues and explore your different desires before committing to graduate school. Not only will those other experiences help you grow as a person, likely making you a more competitive applicant, but also, if after all is said and done and grad school is still on your mind, then the choice will be even more clear later on.
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Jenny Han Simon currently lives in New York City. She was a Fulbright ETA in Mongolia (2019-2020) and a participant of the Critical Language Scholarship (2018). She graduated from the University at Buffalo in 2019 with a BA in English and Linguistics.
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