The decision to attend graduate school requires careful consideration. It could be one of the most important career decisions you'll ever make. Your choice could have a profound effect on your income, your job satisfaction, even your future happiness.
There are lots of reasons to consider furthering your education. Here are a few:
- You're about to get a bachelor's degree and don't want your education to stop when you graduate.
- You plan to go into a profession such as medicine or law that requires advanced training.
- You feel that your career has stalled and believe that further education will give it new life.
Maybe your reason isn't any of those. Maybe you just want to explore the possibilities that higher education offers. Whatever the reason, you need to approach this decision carefully. Graduate education can be expensive and time-consuming. If you already have a job, it may mean putting your career on hold for several years. If you're married, it could mean additional time that you can't spend with your family. On the other hand, going to online graduate school offers tremendous benefits and these may be well worth whatever sacrifices you have to make.
A lot of factors go into the decision. You'll need to take stock of your life and determine your strengths and weaknesses. You'll have to look at where you are now, where you're currently headed in your career and where you expect to end up. You'll need to set priorities, as well as short-term and long-term goals. To this end you'll need to do a great deal of research and maybe make some compromises.
In this guide, we'll give you the information you need in order to make this important choice. Here are some of the things we'll talk about:
- The pros and cons of attending
- Choosing the school that's right for you
- The options available for financing a graduate education
We'll present helpful information on things you may never have thought about before. And with these facts in hand, you'll be prepared to make the most informed decision possible.
Which Graduate School Is Right for You?
There are several criteria you should keep in mind when performing a school search, including the reputation of the grad school, the reputation of its graduate program, the makeup of the faculty, where the school is located, the cost of tuition, the size of the graduate class, the available class hours, and the length of the program. We'll look at each of these in turn.
The School's Reputation
You can learn about a school's reputation by checking out the credentials of its accreditation. You'll want to pick a school that not only is accredited, but that also has a position of leadership in the field you want to study. Take a particularly close look at the school's emphasis of thought and what others think about the education it offers.
The Program's Reputation
Just as important as the school's reputation, the reputation of the particular program is also a huge factor in your grad school search. The program of study that you're interested in is probably only part of the curriculum offered at a college and may have a reputation superior (or inferior) to that of the school that offers it. Learn how the program is regarded within the field you want to enter. In particular, find out what kind of weight the program carries with people who are likely to be making the decision to hire you. Also, find out whether the school's reputation is regional or nationwide and whether graduates of the program go on to well-paid or prestigious positions.
The reputation of the faculty members at a school is important, even apart from the reputation of the program. Are the faculty members recognized within their field? Do they publish frequently in journals? What level of funding are they receiving for their research? As a graduate student you will interact with the faculty to a much greater degree than you did as an undergraduate. Faculty members will be an influence on your daily life-and an influence on your future. You'll want to find a strong mentor who will guide you through the education process and who will help you launch your career when you're ready to leave the school. This mentor should have strong connections in the field.
If your travel is limited-if, for instance, you need to spend time at home or remain near a job-then the location of your chosen school will be important. Think about how much time you can spare for travel and for classes, then choose a school you can commute to in that amount of time. If you need to work or be at home only on weekends, then you can choose a school that's farther away than if you plan to work during the day and take classes at night. Also consider whether your curriculum will require additional time at school, working on projects with classmates or interacting with advisors. Check with the program administrators to see if you'll need to devote forty hours (or more) a week to your studies, and don't forget the time required for reading study materials, writing papers, and doing research.
If there are stringent demands on your time, consider an online program so that you can take courses over the Internet. These curricula tend to offer more flexible hours, though they probably won't have the hands-on instruction or student-teacher interaction that you may be looking for. It's not uncommon for graduate students to work while attending school and this may represent the compromise solution that you need.
Would you rather be a graduate student at a public college or a private one? There's generally a difference in cost and in some cases it can be a substantial one. As a rule, getting an advanced degree at a public institution will cost you less than at a private one. You may be able to get a federal loan to help you afford the tuition at a public school, but many private programs aren't eligible for such funding. If you can afford a private college and feel that the more prestigious programs available from a private university are worth the extra cost, then by all means take the plunge. But bear in mind that the average tuition for one year at a private college is roughly $20,000, while the average tuition at a state college (for residents of that state) is a relatively low $3,500. That's a high premium to pay for the degree at the private school, and you'll need to decide whether it's worthwhile to pay it-or whether, in the absence of a student loan, you can afford it at all.
Class Representation and Size
Only you can know what sort of learning environment is best for you. The student classes in a grad school will probably be smaller than those you were familiar with as an undergraduate. But some schools are larger than others, and you'll need to decide whether you'd rather be surrounded by a small, close-knit group of likeminded individuals or a relatively large and impersonal student body. A small school can be a great place to get a personalized learning experience, but it may not have the resources for research and study that a large school will offer. You may also want to consider the intellectual orientation of the other students. Does it matter to you whether the people you surround yourself with are religious or secular in outlook, whether their politics are liberal or conservative? Are you passionate about politics or would you rather leave such concerns at the college gate? In your search you may find schools that cater to different political and religious attitudes, or that have a diverse student body where politics and religion are very much up to every individual student. You need to decide what sort of intellectual milieu you'll feel comfortable with and find a school that offers it.
Available School Hours
Some schools offer a flexible schedule, letting you choose when you want to take classes, with times available throughout the day and even in the evening. However, some programs may offer little choice of what hours you attend or when your classes are scheduled. If it matters to you when you have to be in class-if, for instance, you have a part-time job and can be in school only at certain times-you'll need to know in advance when the program director and teachers will expect you to attend. In addition, there will probably be special projects required as part of your graduate school education and you'll need to be present for meetings related to these projects. Your master's thesis alone may require that you devote extensive time on campus beyond that required for classes. All of this has to be taken into account if your life makes demands on you beyond the time required for your education.
Length of Program
The amount of time that a school expects you to spend in obtaining your graduate degree can vary between schools. Check to see how long the semester breaks are and how many holidays will be observed, as well as how much time the program will expect you to spend on internships and attending class.
Last Updated: 05/25/2014