3 Important Questions to Ask Yourself Before Applying to Grad School

  • What’s most important in deciding to go to grad school, first and foremost, is a genuine interest in the subject matter of whatever program you select.
    What’s most important in deciding to go to grad school, first and foremost, is a genuine interest in the subject matter of whatever program you select.

    3 Important Questions to Ask Yourself Before Applying to Grad School

    Thinking about grad school? Start with these 3 questions that get to the core of your decision 

    Why do you want to go to grad school?

    This may sound like an obvious question, but it’s one that you’ll need a confident answer to — not just for the admission officers who will ask, but also for yourself! Sometimes undergrad students feel like applying straight to a graduate program is the natural next step in their academic career, when building up employment experience would help more. Or a working professional might feel stuck and bored in their current role and think attending grad school will automatically solve these feelings. 

    What’s most important in deciding to go to grad school, first and foremost, is a genuine interest in the subject matter of whatever program you select. Regardless of whether you’re going to a grad program that will further you in an industry you’re already working in, or you’re using a graduate degree to pivot into a new career track, the underlying foundation should be a passion for what you’re learning and doing. 

    Of course there are practical reasons to want to go to grad school: unemployment rates decrease while median weekly earnings rise in direct correlation to the number of degrees obtained. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average unemployment rate of those with a master’s degree is 4.1%, where it sits at 9% for those with only a high school diploma. If you’re looking for employment and financial stability, it makes sense to look at graduate programs. 

    Try reaching out to a current or past student of a potential program to hear about their experience. Oftentimes college admission departments can put you in touch with a student or point you towards virtual Q&A sessions. Asking questions about course load, campus environment and teaching styles of professors will help you get a sense of what attending grad school will be like. You might find that hearing about the day-to-day experience excites you, or it’s a bit different than what you were expecting. Grad school is a huge commitment, both timewise and financially, so before you start the process of applying – make sure you’re going for the right reasons! 

    What Career Are You Setting Yourself Up For?

    So, you’ve decided that grad school is the right choice for you and you’re ready to commit time and money towards earning a degree. What are you going to do with that degree? Again, it may seem obvious – many applicants have an idea of where they want to end up, especially those entering highly specific graduate programs, such as law or med school. But most grad programs are more open-ended in their scope, and it’s important to know what your goals are as you apply. 

    Consider choosing an MBA – depending on the school, program, and concentration, you can end up in a myriad of careers. Do you want to be a consultant? A manager? An analyst? Here are some ideas of how to home in on which program to choose: 

    • Find someone you look up to and track their past education on sites such as Linkedin to get a sense of how they ended up where they did. 
    • Ask an employer! Find someone working in your intended field and ask how they hire or what schools produce candidates they seek out. 
    • Scour the internet: websites like USNews, GraduateGuide and even online forums populated by students can provide information on what programs yield certain careers. 
    • Use the graduate program’s websites! Many list the employers that their students end up with, and it’s a great way to get a sense of the program – do you want to end up at a non-profit, or at Meta? A graduate degree could help you at either, but it’s up to you where you want to end up!

    Remember that internships are a great opportunity while attending grad school and can only further help you decide what your career track will be. Your answer may change while you’re obtaining your degree, but it’s helpful to have some sense of the job you want as you apply to schools. 

    What Can You Afford?

    Grad school is an investment in yourself, boosting your potential salary and giving you leverage to either ask for a raise from a current employer, or step up to a higher paying job. In the long run, grad school might improve your net worth, but in the short run it can be expensive. When selecting grad schools, consider whether you can afford it, and whether it has a good ROI. What do we mean by ROI? Well, consider that MBA programs have some of the highest price tags out of any graduate degree, but they can also yield some of the highest salaries upon graduation. Some programs cost a lot, but funnel towards careers that have low salary caps. It’s important to research your potential salary, as well as your options for paying for grad school. 

    Consider these options to pay your tuition, well before you apply: 

    • Employer Assistance – Many companies will help you pay for your grad school degree, either partially or in full. Make sure you read the fine print as it usually comes in exchange for staying with the company an X-number of years after graduation. This can be a mutually beneficial exchange: you bring your new skillsets to your employer while being financially relieved of some or all graduate program costs. When job hunting, asking about tuition assistance should be a go-to question if graduate school is on your horizon. 
    • Grant or Scholarship – It can be hard to find scholarships for grad school, but some schools, such as UCLA, provide databases to search. Don’t assume it’s impossible to find scholarships that are available! Many admission offices have advice on where to find scholarships, and they’ll know exactly which options have worked for incoming students in the past – don’t be afraid to ask. 
    • (Smart!) Borrowing – Borrowing money is the most common way students pay for their graduate degrees. Make sure you fully understand the differences between Federal and Private loans, as well as the interest rates that are attached to these loans. To be eligible for Federal Student Loans, you’ll need to fill out a FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Borrowing money can be a big decision, and it’s important to make sure you understand the long-term implications of doing so. Remember – your graduate degree is an asset, and you must decide how much it’s worth! 
    • Work-Study – Many graduate students end up doing research or teaching assistantships in their academic departments, especially if they’re a Doctoral candidate. This is an ideal way to continue immersing yourself in your intended studies, while also paying part of the tab. Be proactive about finding out which Professors or Researchers would be open to hiring for an Assistant role, and don’t want for it to be offered to you – ask! 

    Lastly, make sure you consider your own fulfilment and happiness when calculating these numbers. If grad school can open doors towards a professional career that will make you happier, that is an important and priceless part of the equation. At the end of the day, deciding whether to pursue grad school is a complicated and personal decision – it’s about balancing what you can handle timewise and financially in exchange for a fulfilling degree that will help you grow as a person. Make sure you have plans and answers for these questions, not only because you’ll be asked throughout the application process, but because it’s important for yourself! 

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