Graduate school represents an enormous investment of time and money. Therefore, you should make sure that you understand your reasons for wanting to go to graduate school, and that you feel those reasons justify the time, work, and money you will need to commit to the process.
Ask yourself these questions:
– What are your expectations? Do you want to advance in your career, or to switch fields? Do you hope to contribute to research or theory in your field? Or do you just love this particular subject and want to study it in more depth? These are all good reasons for taking on the challenge and expense of graduate study, and can help you decide which schools and programs are right for you. On the other hand, if your reasons are more along the lines of keeping up with the Joneses (everyone else seems to be going), or escaping a job you can’t stand, you might want to take a step back and reconsider your plans.
– Are you willing to do the required work? It is different from undergraduate study. You will have fewer classes than you did as an undergraduate, but the work load is greater and you will be asked to do more intensive and original work. Classes will be smaller, and will demand more active student participation. You may be expected to participate in hands-on projects and internships, in addition to writing papers and carrying out research. You’re expected to have the self-discipline, initiative, and time management skills to complete your work on schedule, and the people skills to establish and maintain good working relationships with professors and students. You’re not going to do well if you aren’t willing or able to carry out these tasks well, under your own initiative.
– How will you pay for graduate school? Will you need to borrow money? If so, when would you have to start repaying your loans, and how much would you have to repay? Do you qualify for grants, assistantships, or other support? Would your employer help pay the costs? Are you obligated in return? Is what you’re likely to gain – improved career prospects, personal satisfaction – worth the price?
– Is now the right time? If you go now will you miss out on career or other opportunities? Or will it be less disruptive to your career and personal life now than it is likely to be in the future? Will the time and money demands conflict with other things that are important to you such as your family, friends, and financial security? Is there enough time left in your career to realize the benefits that you hope to gain from your degree?