Prepare for Graduate School
Graduate school is not just a continuation of your undergraduate education. It can be as different from your undergraduate work as high school was from Montclair State University. What you need to do first is ask yourself some serious questions.
What Graduate Degrees are available?
Graduate degrees are available in almost any subject and come in three levels-Master, Specialist, and Doctorate. Depending on the graduate school program and degree level you desire, your program requirements and length will vary.
- Specialist degrees are usually earned in addition to a master's degree and will require additional coursework, training, or internship experience. This type of degree usually prepares students for professional certification or licensing requirements (e.g., Ed.S. for school principal or credential for becoming a teacher).
- Master's degrees are offered in many fields of study. Some are designed to lead to a doctoral degree while others are the "terminal" degree for a profession (e.g., Master of Library Science; Master of Business Administration). For full-time students, completing a master's degree usually takes 2 years.
- Doctoral degrees are the highest degrees possible. They usually require the creation of new knowledge via independent research - be it basic or applied. Including the time it takes to write and defend a dissertation, this degree may take anywhere from 5-7 years to complete.
Should I go to graduate school?
Does your ultimate career goal require an advanced degree? Sometimes the answer is clearly “Yes.” For example, lawyers, physicians, and counseling psychologists must have advanced degrees. For some careers, a graduate degree, while not necessary, can be very helpful toward advancement. For example, an MBA can be an important factor for a businessperson’s ability to climb the corporate ladder. A master’s degree in education will often qualify a teacher for higher pay and advancement opportunities.
How can I tell if I need an advanced degree to reach my career goal?
You will have to research your field to answer that question. Here are some tips:
- Schedule an informational interview with a professional in the field. Talk to people who actually are in the career which interests you.
- Refer to the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Handbook will tell you the educational requirements for thousands of careers.
- Use websites such as Gradschools.com, Petersens Guide and Princeton Review among others to research degree programs and determine which will best help you reach your career goals.
Is it better to study something new or should I pursue additional studies in my undergraduate major?
That’s up to you. Base your decision on the major you have as an undergraduate. Do you need to learn more about it? Will in-depth knowledge let you reach your career goal or will you be more marketable to an employer if you have graduate experience in a different field? Research the answer, speak with a career counselor and then make your decision. Remember that many career fields allow you to mix and match. For example, certain businesses prefer to hire MBAs with technical or liberal arts undergraduate degrees.
Is it better to enroll in graduate school after graduation or should I get some work experience first?
Option 1: Go right away.
- If an advanced degree is required for you to meet your career goal, you will gain nothing career-wise by delaying graduate school.
- After four years of college you have “academic momentum.” Even though you may not realize it, your classroom and study skills are polished now. The longer you go without using them, the duller they become.
- Once you start to earn a regular paycheck, it may be hard for you to give up all or part of your salary to become a student again.
Option 2: Delay graduate school.
- In some cases, employers actually prefer people with experience and an advanced degree. For example, new hires with an MBA & experience start with higher salaries than those who have an MBA but no work experience. Also, some graduate programs require that applicants have work experience in a particular field before they are admitted.
- Your economic situation may be such that you have no choice but to work after graduation.
- If you need help to finance your graduate degree, you may want to work for a company that will pay for all or part of your education.
Should I get work experience while I go to grad school part-time?
This plan works for many people, especially if an employer has a tuition remission program. Keep two things in mind:
- Going to graduate school part-time will take much longer than going full-time. How will this time difference affect your career goals?
- Some people’s lifestyles are not compatible with working during the day and going to school at night. Other people like that arrangement. Decide what works best for you.