Is graduate school right for you?
That's the main question as you consider going to graduate school immediately after you leave Simmons. But before you commit your time, energy, and money for graduate school, do your homework and ask yourself some tough questions. Examine your motivations. Are you clear on your short and long-term professional goals? A tremendous amount (of time, energy, and money) goes into obtaining a graduate degree. For some, getting work experience before graduate school allows time to test out some occupational roles and become clearer on their longer-term goals. In deciding whether to pursue an advanced degree upon leaving Simmons, you should carefully consider the following.
Reasons to Go to Graduate School
You . . .
- Have a clear sense of the career path you want to pursue (ie, law, dentistry, research) and are knowledgeable about what you need to enter it
- Desire to immerse yourself in the study of a particular academic discipline purely for the love of it (and can afford to)
- Are convinced that the amount of time and money spent on a program ultimately will translate into greater career mobility and financial possibilities
- Concur with professors and professionals in your field that graduate school is an important asset
- Experience a true enjoyment in the field, enough to commit one to seven years more of school
- Have the interest and ability to succeed in the rigorous demands of a graduate program
Reasons Not to Go to Graduate School
You . . .
- Have the fear that you have no other options, and think there's nothing you can do "with a major in. . ." (see "What Can I Do withThis Major?" for some ideas)
- Don't know the type of career you want and regard the campus as a sheltered place to "find yourself" (the risk is that you may discover you have wasted time and money on career preparation you do not plan to use)
- Feel overly pressured by parents, friends or professors (when only you know for sure what is a good fit for you)
- Feel burned out and tired of the study grind (in which case you should take a break and get some real world experience or consider going to graduate school part-time)
- Are using it as a way to postpone the inevitable job search, and to avoid the real world (Risk: you end up in the same place but with more debt!)
- Have continuing education alternatives to attain your career goals (such as professional seminars, university extension courses, certificate or bridge programs, or community college courses — all of which entail much less time and expense)
How to Evaluate Graduate Programs
If after thoughtfully reviewing your responses to the above you feel graduate school is indeed the right next step, you now have some more decisions to make. Heading for graduate school is the time to really take charge of your education. Arm yourself with information through research online as well as through people you contact. The mentoring you will receive from faculty at the next level will define your graduate school experience, and because research and intellectual development are so core to your progress in the field take an especially close look at the faculty at the institutions you are considering.
There are many resources to help you with this research, including the print and online collections at Beatley Library. Start with the Career Guide to Graduate School Planning. Another helpful, comprehensive source of information to assist you with graduate school planning is Peterson's Graduate Schools Guide, which includes multi-variable search to help you narrow down the right programs for you.
Criteria to Consider
But don't just rely on ratings! To ensure a personalized fit, make a list of desirable traits that you would like in a graduate program. Consider the following criteria as you develop your list:
EVALUATION CRITERIA FOR GRADUATE SCHOOLS & PROGRAMS
- Fit of program with your career goals
- Integration of practical/professional experience in the program
- Success of graduates in your intended field
- Program goals and purpose
- Program reputation
- Program length
- Flexibility of program schedule
- Ability of graduates to obtain positions upon graduation
- Size of classes
- Faculty to student ratio
- Faculty reputation
- Publications and/or research
- Diversity of faculty
- Diversity of student body
- Availability of financial aid
- Stress level
Adapted from PATH: A Career Workbook for Liberal Arts Students by Howard Figler
When to Start the Application Process
If you are considering graduate school, begin the research process no later than the fall semester of your junior year. Follow a suggested timeline so that you have accomplished those things that will make you a competitive candidate when you apply. Continue the process over the next summer and into your senior year. About.com is a good source for both a junior year timeline and a senior year timeline.
Determining How Many Graduate Programs to Apply For
Only you can determine the number of programs to which you should apply. Unlike your undergraduate application process, the graduate process is not a mysterious, closed-door event. The odds of your being accepted into a program are weighted to favor the connection between the program and your intended career path, including the maturity and preparedness the graduate program faculty perceive you to have for that path.
Simmons College Graduate Schools & Programs
As you consider your graduate school options, you may want to include the graduate programs offered at Simmons to see if any of them provide a good fit with your career goals. Simmons College has five graduate schools, each with different program options. Within the College of Arts and Sciences alone there are several different areas of study, including the large Education program. Each school has its own offices and website with more detailed information on programs and offerings:
- College of Arts and Sciences Graduate Studies
- Graduate School of Library & Information Science
- School of Management
- School of Nursing and Health Sciences
- School of Social Work
Post-Graduate Bridge and Pre-Professional Programs
Another option that many undergraduate students are not aware of is the range of non-degree programs, focused on specific fields, that provide further education of a career-oriented nature but for a much lower commitment of time and dollars than degree programs require. Typically these programs cater to recent grads (and sometimes career changers as well), are university-based, and are immersive (ie, they focus on just one subject intensively). They usually combine classroom work with professional development components -- whether internships, site visits, networking opportunities, projects under the guidance of industry practitioners, career fairs, etc. -- with an eye toward preparing students for and giving them a leg up in the job market. Graduates of these programs have a built-in network of program alums, many of whom are professionals in their chosen field.
See the Simmons Library Career Guide on Post-Graduate Pre-Professional Programs for a listing of selected programs across more than a dozen different fields.
Meeting with a Career Coach about Graduate School
Deciding to attend graduate school is a big decision. If, after reviewing the above, you feel you could benefit from the guidance and support of a CEC career coach in considering the range of issues involved in this decision, including researching, evaluating, preparing for, and applying to graduate school, contact the CEC to set up an appointment with a coach. You should also consult with your faculty advisor and professors in your field on graduate school options. As they know both the field and you and your work they are often well-positioned to assist in a consideration of your graduate school options.
For More Information
- Beatley Library Career Guide on Graduate School Planning - a comprehensive guide with sections include Finding a Program; Application, Essay, and Admissions Test Information; Financial Aid; and Jobs and Professional Life.
- The Writing Center provides personalized support and guidance with the process of writing application essays.
- Donald Asher Webinar "Getting into Graduate School" walks you through step-by-step on how to successfully get into graduate school. Running time: 51 min. (Note: requires Microsoft Silverlight player plug-in, which is downloadable by accessing the webinar link.)
- About.com Articles on Application Timelines for Graduate Schools
Check out the STEPS Career Development Plan
To learn more about the STEPS Career Development Plan based on the 5 Step Model and developed specifically for Simmons undergraduate students, visit the STEPS Plan page.
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