Slaying Your Biggest Fears About Applying to Grad School

Dec 20, 2021

By ProFellow Founder Dr. Vicki Johnson

Today I want to talk about the biggest fears that you have about applying to graduate school and pursuing your master’s or doctoral degree. The reason I want to talk about these fears and objections is that I think many of them are holding you back from achieving your full potential, from achieving a dream that you’ve been thinking about in order to advance your career or to achieve a lifelong goal: achieving the highest degree in your field.

Fear #1: Graduate School is too expensive

The very first objection that I often hear from people is the fear of the cost of graduate school. If you go to a top program in the US, it’s going to cost you anywhere from $75,000 or more for a two-year master’s degree to potentially more than $250,000 for a five-year doctoral degree.

However, you do not need to fear the cost of graduate school! That’s because there are literally thousands of fully-funded graduate programs that will PAY you to attend. If you missed my last video, I explained how you can find fully-funded master’s and doctoral programs that will pay you to attend. I completed my PhD with full funding, which means my university paid me to complete my graduate degree through what’s called a Graduate Assistantship. A Graduate Assistantship is a part-time job with the university that pays you a living stipend or salary and gives you the employment benefit of free tuition. That is how I was able to achieve my PhD completely debt-free.

At ProFellow, we have made it our mission to help people find the thousands of fully funded master’s and doctoral programs that are out there that will pay you to attend. We have a free Directory of more than a thousand programs that we found! Because this directory is not exhaustive, I also have explained how to find fully funded programs in any discipline.

Fear #2: I am too old for graduate school

Another big objection and fear that I hear is: I’m too old to go to graduate school. However, there are people in their forties, fifties, and sixties who would love to get their master’s or doctoral degree to either advance in their career, to make a career change, or just to pursue a lifelong dream to achieve the highest degree in their field.

A lot of people have this perception that if you’re in your 40s, 50s, 60s or even 70s, you’re too old to go to graduate school. This is completely false. In my own PhD cohort, which was a group of fewer than 20 students, there were two students over the age of 60. They were pursuing their PhDs in their 60s, and there were other people in my own PhD cohort in their 40s and 50s (as well as 30s and 20s). We were a very wide range. When I did a little research and looked around, I saw that many graduate programs have a wide age distribution of students.

You’re definitely not too old to go to graduate school, whether you’re pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree, but you do need to have the right motivations for going to graduate school. You must have the right application story and you need to express to selection committees why you want to complete your master’s or doctoral degree at mid or late-career. This is one of the many things that I teach in my Fully Funded Course and Mentorship Program. I have people in my program ranging from age 18, still in undergrad, all the way to people in their early 70s who are going for this big goal. You should immediately dispel the idea that you cannot do a graduate degree at different ages. There is no age limit, and there isn’t any reason that you can’t pursue it at mid or late-career!

Fear #3: I’m not interested in research

You might be concerned that it is primarily research-based degrees that offer full funding, because you don’t want to do research in your career or as part of your graduate studies. I get it. As I explained in some of my other videos, the full funding awards typically are only found in research-based (as well as Fine Arts) graduate programs. That’s because the university is paying a select number of graduate students to provide research and teaching support to faculty of the university. They tend to reserve Graduate Assistantship positions for students who are in research-based programs, because this work experience is especially critical for people who want to go on to academic jobs and teach at the university level.

A professional graduate degree might better serve your career goals. However, you really have to look carefully to see if the professional track that you’re going to go into after your professional graduate degree is going to pay you enough money for you to be able to pay down the student debt that you accrue. You have to know if you are going to make that much of a salary leap after your degree to be able to pay down your graduate school debt in a reasonable amount of time.

Keep in mind, even for people who want to stay in non-academic career tracks, a research-based graduate degree can be very valuable! Research is a technical skill that is useful in any industry. A research-based graduate program will teach you how to create a research question, apply specific research methods that help you to investigate that question, and find evidence-based answers to your questions. That is an important skill needed not just for jobs in academia, but also in positions in the nonprofit industry, in government, and in the corporate industry. For example, in the business world, you might do customer research and market research. This might not be considered the same as doing academic research at the university level, but it is a form of research. If you can get that kind of skill from your graduate degree AND get your graduate degree fully funded because it’s a research-based degree, then you can graduate without any student debt and move into the career that you want.

The key to all of this is to find fully funded research-based degrees or Fine Arts degrees that will help you to achieve your career goals. That does take a little bit of research in terms of figuring out what can you get out of this degree from a skills, expertise, and even networking perspective, but I can guarantee that you can find fully funded graduate programs that will give you the skills and expertise that you need to advance in any career track, even one that is not ultimately a research-based role.

Fear #4: I don’t want to take the GRE

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is one of the different types of admissions exams that are used in the United States for some humanities and social science programs. The good news is that a lot of universities have recently dropped the GRE requirement. You actually can find many, many programs that no longer require the GRE! In addition, the GRE is used primarily in the United States. If you’re looking at graduate programs outside of the United States, this is something you don’t even have to worry about.

For those of you looking at programs in the United States, be assured many, many programs have dropped the GRE requirement for two reasons. During the COVID pandemic, people were having trouble being able to get to the testing sites, so they just dropped it due to the logistics of it. Another reason that they’re dropping it, is that they’re finding that the GRE is not a good indicator of a student’s success in graduate school. As a standardized test, it doesn’t accurately measure a student’s ability to be successful in their coursework, in research, or in writing their papers.

So, if you want to avoid taking the GRE altogether and select schools that don’t require it, you absolutely can find multiple programs in your discipline that won’t require the GRE! You just have to do a little bit of research. If it’s not clear on the university’s website, all you need to do is write to admissions and ask.

In addition, some schools are making it optional, saying that you could submit scores if you have them, but you don’t have to. Unless your scores are really, really high, don’t submit them! Just rely on the other pieces of your application to tell your application story for success.

Fear #5: I can’t get into my dream school

The fifth objection that I hear often is: I don’t believe that I can get into my dream school. If that’s you, that’s also based upon a fear – a fear of failure. You also might be someone who’s looking through the profiles of students that are going to some of the top schools that you have your eye on. You might be thinking, I look nothing like this person, their background is so much more extraordinary than mine, etc. If you’re having those feelings of comparison and the feeling that you can’t quite live up to what other students have achieved, then you’re definitely in fear of failure mode.

However, most applicants do not understand what selection committees are looking for in candidates! There’s a cultural perception that they’re choosing candidates primarily on their grades and their test scores. However, if that were the case, they wouldn’t ask for a personal statement or a research proposal or recommendation letters from people that know your work. These are other important elements of the application that show your full body of work and your academic and professional potental. While you do need to have some examples of demonstrated success in your career or in your academic studies, grades and test scores are definitely not going to determine by themselves where you get into graduate school or not. There are a lot bigger elements in play to get into graduate school, elements that every single one of you has. They are the story of your potential and the story of the social impact that you want to make in your career. That is the story that you want to express in your application!

Graduate programs that offer full funding have different selection criteria than those of non-funded, professional programs. Some of the things that I teach in my Fully Funded Course and Mentorship Program are what are those differences are and what the selection committees are looking for. I’ve helped numerous people get into fully funded graduate programs who didn’t have the highest grades, the highest test scores, or any test scores at all. However, they told their application story well. That’s the most important thing!

Register for my FREE Masterclass!

If you want to learn more about finding and successfully applying to fully funded master’s and doctoral programs successfully, be sure to register for my free 90-minute Masterclass: The 5 Step Method to Achieve a Graduate Degree Debt-Free. In this Masterclass, you can ask your questions and learn more about my Fully Funded Course and Mentorship Program. I hope to see you there!

Register for my Free Masterclass here!

Best of luck! The ProFellow community is rooting for you!

Dr. Vicki Johnson Headshot

Dr. Vicki Johnson is Founder and CEO of ProFellow, the world’s leading online resource for professional and academic fellowships. She is a four-time fellow, top Ph.D. scholar, Fulbright recipient and an award-winning social entrepreneur. She is the Creator and Director of Fully Funded, an award-winning online course and mentorship program for graduate school applicants seeking to find and win full funding. 

© Victoria Johnson / ProFellow, LLC 2021, all rights reserved.