In the fall of 2019, 3.1 million students attended graduate programs*, for reasons almost as varied as the degrees they pursued. Traditionally, there are multitudes of reasons why people go to grad school. Perhaps you just finished your undergrad degree and you need an advanced degree to work in your field, such as psychology. Or perhaps you haven’t been able to find a job in your undergrad field of study, so you’re going to get an advanced degree to increase your options. You may already be in the workforce and want to obtain an advanced degree to move up the ladder in your business, education or health care career. Or maybe you’re considering changing careers, and an advanced degree is the key to making that happen.
The state of the job market can impact students’ decisions about grad school as well. Undergrad students primarily made up the 3% growth in grad school admissions during the pandemic, as the current job market made it very challenging for them to find jobs post-graduation. Online programs were the main attraction for these students.
Most grad students fall into one of the above situations, so if you see yourself in one of these descriptions, then grad school may be right for you. If you’re still not sure, ask yourself the following questions.
Will I need research or work experience to get into a graduate program right after undergrad?
This is important to consider while you’re still in undergrad. If you’re planning on pursuing a research-based degree, program recruiters will want to see that you’ve some research experience going in. Arrange to gain as much lab experience as you can with your professors.
If you’re pursuing a non-research-based degree, internships are going to be essential to standing out on an application. Any field-related experience outside of the classroom will bode well for you in the eyes of admissions committees.
Do I need a master’s or Ph.D. to stay in or advance my career?
Talk to your boss or HR rep at work not only to find out how a graduate degree will help you advance your career, but also to determine if they will pay for part or all your continuing education efforts. Many companies do this, and it’s a huge perk you should take advantage of if it’s available to you.
Will my salary increase if I have a master’s or Ph.D.?
Again, this is a discussion to have with your boss or HR rep but is one worth having. You want to make sure that going back to school is worth the time, effort and cost.
Is it worth it?
If you have to pay for this degree or take out loans, you want to make sure you don’t borrow more than you’ll end up making.
Can I afford the cost? How will I finance this?
If you’re already in the workforce, your employer may help with tuition. But there are also numerous resources and scholarships to help finance your higher ed goals.
Do I have the time with work or family commitments?
This is a personal question that only you and your family can answer. It’s important to communicate the demands that pursuing a degree will require, including time and financial. You may decide to go to school part-time, or you may determine that you can afford to go full time with your partner working. Those are details to work out with your partner, but the point here is to make sure they’re worked out.
* National Center for Education Statistics: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372#College-enrollment.