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Thinking About Heading Straight to Grad School? Read This First

hatsFor a college student entering the last year or two of school, the headlines are alarming. It seems every day, there’s another “doom and gloom” report about jobs or student loans, making it sound as if no matter what you do, you’re doomed to move back in to your parents’ basement and serve lattes for the rest of your life.

While the job market is certainly more competitive than it has been in the past, it’s not all bad news for new graduates. New data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the job market for recent grads is actually no worse than it was in the years leading up to the Great Recession, and that 85 percent of students who graduated since 2008 are employed full time.  The problem, experts note, isn’t necessarily that there is a lack of jobs, but that many students are having trouble finding full time work within their fields of study, or finding high-paying jobs.

As a result, there is a growing trend of students heading straight to graduate school upon completing their bachelor’s degrees. Graduate school applications have steadily increased since 2008, for several reasons. In some cases, a graduate degree is necessary for landing even an entry-level job (think law or medicine.) However, most students who consider transitioning right from college to graduate school are looking at advanced degrees as a way to get a leg up on the competition; after all, many previously entry level jobs are being filled by more experienced workers. And of course, there are always those students who see graduate school as a means of avoiding “the real world,” and extending college for at least a few more years.

The thing is, graduate school is a major undertaking, in terms of both time and money. It’s not a decision to be made lightly, and not a default option.

Experience Matters

Unlike your bachelor’s degree, which provided basic knowledge and skills to prepare you for a career in your chosen field, a graduate degree is a more specialized program. It’s best suited for someone who has a clear idea of what he or she wants to do in his or her career. For that reason, most programs encourage applicants to apply only after they have a few years of experience in the working world.

Working in the field not only helps you clarify your goals, it also helps prepare you for the rigors of graduate-level study. After all, you won’t be taking introductory-level, “101” style classes in graduate school, but will most likely jump in with both feet and begin studying the high-level specific skills and concepts you need to move to the next level in your career. It’s probably worth taking a look at the kinds of courses you might take now, so you can see if is coursework you might be interested in and prepare yourself.

studentBefore you start filling out applications and crafting a personal statement, then, consider the following:

  • What do I want to accomplish in my career? How will this degree help me achieve that?
  • Am I sure that this is the field I want to spend the next 25-30 years in? Would I be better off to get some experience to be sure?
  • What is my real reason for applying? If it’s to avoid working or paying student loans, you may be wasting your time and money.
  • Can I afford graduate school? Program costs range from $10,000 per year to well over $50,000 per year. Do you have a plan for covering those costs? Can you find a job that offers tuition assistance to help defray those costs?
  • Can you stomach another 2-5 years of school, depending on your program and personal circumstances?

Of course, you may discover that after honestly considering these questions, transitioning right into graduate school is the right choice. Many people discover, though, upon honest assessment, that they will get more from graduate school by waiting even just a few years, when they have a better handle on their goals and some experience to bring value to their studies.

Preparing for Grad School

Putting off the master’s degree for a few years doesn’t mean you need to postpone learning. You can better prepare for a degree program — and perform better at work — by devoting yourself to learning before applying to programs. Read journals and publications in the field to stay on top of current news, evaluate the programs you’re interested in and take any prerequisites to get them out of the way, and find a mentor to help you succeed at work and champion your career development. If you do all of this, when the time comes to send out those graduate school applications, you’ll have a better chance of being accepted — and getting more from your studies.

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Clever Dude

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