Applying to graduate school is like applying to college, only harder. And thatâ€™s the point. Grad schools want to weed out people who arenâ€™t serious. Which gives a clue about one of the best reasons to earn a graduate degree: You have a real, deep love of learning. Grad school is about pursuing a passion. If you plan to advance in certain fields, you simply must have a masters or Ph.D. Prospects are particularly strong in education, medical research, and counseling.
But if youâ€™re going to grad school to wait out the recession, thatâ€™s probably a mistake. Bradley Richardson, who manages The Wall Street Journalâ€™s career site at careerjournal.com says, â€œNot to downplay education, but many people go to grad school for the worst reasons. Right now companies are more apt to grow someone from withinâ€ (USA Weekend, October 4-6, 2002). So realize that for some employers, your track record and series of accomplishments on the job carry more clout than a degree. In short, a graduate degree alone doesnâ€™t guarantee success, or even a job.
When weighing the pros and cons of going to grad school, talk to a career adviser and someone you admire in the field you want to specialize in. Ask if, in their opinion, grad school is worth the investment. A graduate education costs anywhere from $46,000 at the low end, to $90,000 and up. Sallie Mae, the federal agency that that provides 40 percent of student loans, recommends borrowing as a last resort. Their researchers say more grad students should consider working part-time during school or even postponing their studies while they save up the tuition money.
If you are currently an undergraduate student, some schools allow you to pursue a masterâ€™s degree, such as an MBA, within five years. This option is less expensive because it requires less time than the traditional route. Check with your schoolâ€™s administrative office to see if this is a possibility. Another option: Many universities now offer online grad programs in business, education, and engineering. You can log on to www.usnews.com for a listing of 2,000 institutions that include key attributes about the learning experience in each program.
If you donâ€™t know what you want to do with a masterâ€™s degree, it may high time for a self-assessment. Do you know your interests and values? Do you want a lot of money or to work for social change? If youâ€™re thinking of switching careers, explore the new field your considering before making the big leap into grad school. Take a class, do volunteer work, talk to people about what the work is really like. In short, find out what youâ€™d be getting into. Graduate degrees can definitely open up doors in certain career fields. You just want to make sure youâ€™re going for the right reasons.