There are upsides and downsides to graduate school. On the downside, programs are small, there’s a lot of competition, and your job outlook might still be uncertain once you’ve earned your degree. On the other hand, a graduate degree could be the ticket to the best jobs, may allow you to move beyond a certain level in your career, and marks you as an expert.
You should ask yourself these four questions when deciding if and when to go to graduate school:
You must seek more than a credential or letters after your name. Consider the specific doors that the degree will open. A sheer love of school, or a vague desire for “something to fall back on,” are poor reasons for going to grad school.
“It is important to know why you want to go back,” says Dominique Grinnell ’88, who has both a master’s in political science and an MBA. “Knowing why means that during the really hard times when you are thinking that you made a mistake, you will be able to say, ‘Oh yeah, I am here for a reason.’ Knowing why makes the sacrifice worth it.”
Start thinking now about the marketing plan you’ll follow after graduation. If you were to get handed your degree tomorrow, what five firms would you want job offers from?
“Know how you will pay for your education and support yourself during school,” says Grinnell. “Figure this out before you go. It’s hard enough being in school without worrying how you will come up with tuition or pay your car insurance.” It’s important to recognize the costs, both personal and financial, and be prepared to shoulder them.
If all of these questions can be answered positively and specifically, it probably makes sense to go to graduate school now. If you can’t answer these yet, then usually it’s better to wait and get your life in order so that you can answer them positively and make the right choices.
Commercial guides like Peterson’s.
Visit bulletin boards and listservs.
Talk to professors.
Cold call people in the field.
Visit the UCLA Career Center.
Make use of the Alumni Association.
Join professional organizations.