Is Graduate School Right for You? An Admissions Advisor Tells All: Part 1

Once you graduate from college you have two options; go to work or go back to school (as in graduate school). However, with the economy being what it is lately, many college grads are choosing graduate school even though they’re not sure what they want to study. Colin Bosworth, a recent business administration college graduate sums up an entire generation’s sentiment when he says, “I can’t find a job right now, so I might as well just enroll in graduate school.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics you double your chances of finding a job if you have a masters degree and almost triple your chances with a PhD. But even with this data, does it make good financial sense to go to graduate school, as opposed to moving back home to sleep on your parents’ couch until you find a job? According to Lyn Eckels, independent college admissions and scholarship advisor, you should answer two key questions before committing to any graduate program: (1) Do you really need an advanced degree in your chosen field to launch your career, and (2) Will you be supported while you’re in graduate school?

“Money matters,” counsels Ms. Eckels. “It makes no sense to go into debt to earn an advanced degree that you may not really need, just because you can’t find a job at the moment. However, if you can afford it, attending graduate school right after college could be a smart move in this job market.”

Test Your Enthusiasm

Too often new college graduates feel pressured into going to graduate school if they can’t find a job. On the surface this appears to make sense, but in reality graduate school is not for everyone. Before you pursue any advanced degree Ms. Eckels recommends you test your enthusiasm first.

“If possible, take some graduate courses in the area of study in which you’re interested WHILE you’re still an undergraduate. If you’ve already graduated, audit a graduate course. Earning an masters or PhD is much more demanding of your time and finances, so you want to make sure you attend graduate school with complete focus, otherwise you won’t get nearly enough out of it to justify the sacrifices.”

Young college graduates argue, however, that the alternative is working as a barista or parking lot attendant, for example, until their ship comes in. “If you’re forced into being underemployed, do it as an assistant in the graduate field you’re considering. That way someone pays you to see if you like this type of work in the first place.” Plus, you make valuable contacts that can be used later as noteworthy references on job or graduate school applications.

Hone Your Writing and Speaking Skills

If after all your soul searching you decide that graduate school is the right choice for you, Ms. Eckels advises that you immediately lay some groundwork before you even apply.

“First and foremost, immediately start doing things that hone your writing and speaking skills. Two big aspects of graduate school are being a teaching assistant (who leads classes) and writing your thesis. You don’t want to have to rely on on-the-job training. If you’ve never taught a class or even spoken publicly before, then get some experience under your belt before it counts. Similarly, if writing is not your strong suit, then takes some classes now that can help you get up to speed.”

Many continuing education programs at colleges offer business, research, and thesis writing courses. Also, joining professional groups such as Toastmasters International is a good way to practice writing and public speaking. And if possible, sign up to be a substitute teacher at your local middle schools and high schools, or offer to teach a community education class in an area of your personal expertise.

Cultivate Relationships With Mentors

But most importantly, Ms. Eckels advises that you find people that can function as mentors to you throughout your graduate studies.

“As an undergraduate it is important to cultivate at least one close relationship, generally with a professor in your major subject. Faculty in related fields, graduate students, and employers may also become mentors. A mentor within your department will most likely be your primary advisor on graduate school issues (including whether or not to go), helping you focus your area of interest; suggesting the most appropriate matches for your specific interests; and writing those vital graduate school recommendations. Having a recommendation from a high-profile or influential person can be helpful, but a sincere and meaningful endorsement from a mentor is invaluable.

Once you’re ready to pursue an advanced degree there are things you can do to make sure you get exactly what you need out of your experience. In Part 2 of our series Ms. Eckels offers “tricks of the trade” to give you that competitive edge in finding both the right graduate school and program.

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