Before you commit yourself to graduate school, do your homework and ask yourself some tough questions. Is graduate school right for you? Examine your motivations. Are you clear on your short and long-term professional goals, and how attending graduate school impacts them? A tremendous amount of time, energy, and money goes into obtaining a graduate degree, so you want to be sure this is the best step to take.
- 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 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
This list isn’t exhaustive, and you may find there are other reasons you are considering graduate school. The most important thing is that you’re taking the time to really assess your motivations behind pursuing a graduate degree.
- Have the fear that you have no other options, and think there's nothing you can do with your major/degree; see the Career Exploration page [link to new Career Exploration page] for help with learning about your options
- Don't know the type of career you want and regard a college 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; only you know for sure what is a good fit for you
- Feel burned out and tired of the study grind; if this is the 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; a big risk with this is that you could 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
If some of these items describe your current situation it doesn’t mean that graduate school will never be right for you. It just is showing you that at this moment it might not be the best next step, and is always something you can reconsider at a later time.
If you feel graduate school is indeed the right next step to take after thoughtfully reviewing your motivations and professional goals, 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.
Evaluation Criteria for Graduate Programs
Don't just rely on program 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:
- 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
We recommend beginning 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.
In addition, current students can utilize the Writing Center for assistance with application essays.
If you are not currently in school we recommend first figuring out when you’d like to begin school. Some programs allow for students to start in the spring, some will only allow fall starts, and some have rolling starts throughout the year. As you start narrowing down programs that you feel are a good fit for you and your professional goals, pay close attention to admission requirements and deadlines.
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.
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. You can find out more information about Simmons’ graduate programs.
Another option that many undergraduate students are not aware of is 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 including internships, site visits, networking opportunities, projects under the guidance of industry practitioners, and career fairs. Their focus is on 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 a variety of fields.
Deciding to attend graduate school is a big decision. Meet with a CEC career coach with help in considering the range of issues involved in this decision, including researching, evaluating, preparing for, and applying to graduate school.
For undergraduate students, we also recommend consulting with your faculty advisor and professors in your field on graduate school options. As they know the field, you, and your work they are often well-positioned to assist in a consideration of your graduate school options.