So many students I meet in my career advising appointments tell me they know they want to pursue a graduate degree. It is a life goal to continue their higher education, which I really relate to since I felt the same way after graduating with my bachelor’s degree. Now on the other side of my master’s degree and as a Career Advisor, I have some tips to help you decide if pursuing an advanced degree directly after graduation is the right plan for you, or if you should consider a gap year or working a few years before applying. Like all career decisions, spending time to reflecting on your reasoning will help you to be the most strategic in your graduate school choice.
Are you uncertain about your career path or do you know exactly what you want to do?
Reflecting on your ‘why’ for going to graduate school is critical. Sometimes people will go to graduate school because they have no idea what career they want to pursue. This is a red flag because graduate school is not only a large investment of time and money, but graduate programs are also very specialized. Graduate education is different from your undergraduate education, which can be applied in a variety of career settings. For instance, graduate programs run the spectrum of being professional (ex. Master of Business Administration, M.B.A.) to being more scholarly (Doctor of Philosophy, Ph.D.). Without knowing how you want to apply the knowledge you’re learning, a graduate school program could end up not preparing you for what you ultimately decide is next. By having an idea of the career you want to pursue, you are more informed when researching different graduate school programs and can narrow in on the best fit for your academic focus, professional goals, and culture preferences.
How will graduate school enhance your skillset?
You will have the skills you need to enter the workforce when you graduate with your bachelor’s degree (and yes that includes all colleges and majors). However, some career paths require an advanced degree from the start in order to be qualified for a particular position or role. It’s important to ask yourself if it is absolutely necessary to pursue a graduate degree right now, or if you have the option to wait.
Does graduate school give you room to advance now?
If you are considering applying to graduate school, ask yourself if attending directly after receiving your bachelor’s degree will increase your opportunity for immediate advancement in your career. Sometimes working before going to graduate school can positively impact your experience as a student down the road. For example, gaining practical work experience after receiving your bachelor’s degree can enhance your graduate degree by allowing you to contribute your experiences to classroom discussions as well as applying what you observed in the workplace to what you’re learning in your program. Furthermore, some companies and organizations offer graduate school tuition benefits to employees which means waiting could also mean saving money on that degree.
Do you meet all of the requirements yet?
Graduate school applications can require prerequisite courses and/or standardized test scores. Additionally, some graduate school programs recommend a few years of work experience before applying. These requirements will factor into your timeline for applying to graduate school. Planning ahead while pursuing your bachelor’s degree can allow you to be ready to apply right away in your senior year. However, if you end up needing more time to study for an exam or take an additional class a gap year could be beneficial. Taking a gap year(s) can allow you to travel, volunteer, or work, while also gathering your application materials and meeting the requirements in order to apply for graduate school. These experiences gained in gap year(s) can also make your application more competitive. Having a clear understanding of the requirements and what makes a competitive application will help you make a choice on timing for graduate school.
How do you plan to finance graduate school?
While attending graduate school allows you to defer undergraduate loans, this should not be a reason to go to graduate school since those loans (and likely more loans) will be awaiting you when you graduate. Understanding how you can finance your life as a graduate student as well as having a plan for how you will pay back student debt can help inform your decision of when to attend graduate school. Additionally, considering programs with a +1 year could be financially beneficial as well as utilizing the ‘Double Demon Discount’ for your graduate education. Furthermore, many programs offer ways to help pay for graduate school through graduate assistant or teaching assistant positions, or by doing research. So there are a lot of factors to consider with finances, which is why I’m going to give a shout out to my friends at DePaul Central, especially the Financial Fitness program. This program offers students one-on-one confidential financial counseling. To request an appointment, email FinancialFitness@depaul.edu or call (312) 362-6482.
All in all, there are many factors to consider when choosing to go to graduate school, but please do not let that discourage you! As you know, your Career Advisor is here to support you through this decision and to help you consider all your options.