Should you Apply? Some of the Best and Worst Reasons to Attend Graduate School

Applying to graduate school is like applying to college, only harder. And that’s the point. Grad schools want to weed out people who aren’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 you’re going to grad school to wait out the recession, that’s probably a mistake. Bradley Richardson, who manages The Wall Street Journal’s career site at says, “Not to downplay education, but many people go to grad school for the worst reasons. Right now companies are more apt to grow someone from within” (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 doesn’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 master’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 school’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 for a listing of 2,000 institutions that include key attributes about the learning experience in each program.

If you don’t know what you want to do with a master’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 you’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 you’d be getting into. Graduate degrees can definitely open up doors in certain career fields. You just want to make sure you’re going for the right reasons.

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