Okay, so you’ve read part one of “Should You Go to Grad School?” and you’ve evaluated your reasons and you’re sure you’re doing it for the right reasons- but what now?
-Evaluate where you will get funding from. If you’re going for a Master’s Degree it can be a “no-man’s land” for funding- you no longer qualify for federal and state grants, many scholarships are geared towards undergrads. Unless you’re going for your Ph.D. (and are accepted into that program from the beginning) or have worked out a plan with your specific institution or program, you might find it hard to fund your graduate degree. Of course, it’s not impossible- but it’ll take some legwork. You may have to come to terms with the fact that your graduate degree could cost you $20k or more and that you may not get funding even if you are accepted. If you’re okay with that, proceed.
-Evaluate what you hope to gain from graduate school. Are you just going to further your credentials as an educated person, or are you looking for a life experience as well? Knowing what you want to get out of grad school in your personal life can impact where and how you apply- which is something most people won’t tell you. If you are going for the name of the institution- you shouldn’t care so much if it’s in a bad (or simply uninteresting) area, or you might even stay local or try an online institution. If you want an education coupled with an amazing new city or lifestyle- you really should let that be part of your decision.
Graduate level work is rough- loving your location can help you power through it. Additionally- look at the culture of the city, is there stuff you’d be interested in outside of the school? There will be times you hate being a grad student, being in love with your life (and location) outside of the program is part of a balance that is key to your longterm sanity. You can live at the library, sure- but get your tuition’s worth and make the best out of your time away from the stacks.
If you have dreams of traveling, look into options of studying locally and researching globally to get some travel in as some grad programs are geared for the explorers at heart.
-Start talking to people- but be careful who you listen to. This is something I wish I’d have known- this is not the time to garner support from your family and friends as to whether this is a “good” idea. You need to start talking to people who are doing what you want to do, who have gone through grad school, and who can offer constructive but critical guidance. Asking your uncle or best friend who typically lovingly supports everything you do is great to bolster your courage, but it’s not enough. People who haven’t been to grad school or who don’t know your field will typically tell you that “more education is always better,” but for the price you’re paying, you’re going to want more substantial feedback.
Talk to your professors, mentors and any grad students you know. If you don’t know any grad students- many schools list the contact information of their grad students on their department website. Send a humble email to anyone you are soliciting advice from.
-Read. Read. Read. Get your nose out of the GRE book now! Those dreaded exit exams get way too much time and money from worried students. Trust me (and many of my friends)- if you suck at standardized tests, you’re not likely to pull a miracle out of your bum on this one. Couple your exam prep with application prep and start reading up- you’re going to want a killer personal statement for those applications. I recommend Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D. along with Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture. Start looking outward for inspiration and start looking inward for what you focus on in your application essays.
Of course, this advice is geared towards those who still have some time . If you’re reading this at the time of its initial posting in February, you have plenty of time to implement these foundational tips. By summer, you want to be prepping for your exams, by fall, have them done, and by winter you’ll want to get your apps in- of course this varies program to program!
Upcoming: Posts about saving money on the application process, and application time management is on its way!