It’s graduation season, and on the mind of many recent college graduates and those already in the workforce is graduate school. The big question of furthering your education beyond your Bachelor’s is one you must think about seriously and carefully. Chances are, you are financially drained from your time in college and need to work to build up a savings. Chances also are that you need a Master’s to work in your chosen field. It seems Master’s degrees are the new Bachelor’s degrees in the job market these days, and it’s becoming more common and necessary to get one. So, what do you need to think about before applying to grad school? Keep reading to find out.
When should you get your Master’s degree?
The first thing you need to think about is when do you want to start your Master’s program? If you are anything like me, you are a little mentally drained from your undergraduate degree, and the thought of immediately diving into an even more intense learning environment sounds like complete torture. But others want to finish their schooling as soon as possible and might even feel like if they take a break from school that they will never go back. Whenever you decide is the right time for you to go, make sure to plan nearly a year in advance. So, if you are hoping to go directly after undergrad, you better start thinking about it at the beginning of, or even before, your senior year.
Depending on the schools and programs you are looking into, the process could take several months, including school research, GRE prep, and putting your application materials together such as your statement of purpose and recommendation letters. It helps to follow a timeline to make sure you’re on on track with timeframes and deadlines and keeping your materials together. Keep in mind that some programs don’t have such a rigorous application process, so be sure to closely check the requirements for the program you choose.
Which degree should you get?
Next, you need to think about what career you want, and which degree you need to have to do it. Take me, for example: I got an undergraduate degree in Linguistics, which was incredibly interesting, but also pretty much useless without a Master’s. Linguistics covers a multitude of different subfields, and each one requires a different degree. Examples are theoretical linguistics (phonology, grammar, etc), applied linguistics (ESL teaching, language acquisition, etc), Speech Pathology, Forensic Linguistics, and many more. A wide variety of specializations is likely the case for most undergraduate degrees, and it’s important to find the right graduate program for your desired career.
When looking into graduate programs, be sure to look at the required classes. Some of my undergrad cohorts who went immediately to graduate school found that their program’s first year was a lot of information they had already learned in undergrad but couldn’t get out of taking again. They felt that it was wasting their time (and money) that could have been better spent studying their chosen field. Don’t be afraid to call or email the schools with degree programs you are interested in and ask any questions that you are concerned about.
How much will it cost?
Once you have your chosen degree in mind, you need to consider the cost. While the typical master’s degree is mercifully shorter than undergraduate degrees, it’s not always much cheaper. Find multiple schools with similar programs and compare and contrast prices and quality. Start saving for your masters as early as you can. There are many ways to save money for graduate school, including closely budgeting your money, getting a 529 plan, and looking into tuition reimbursement from your company. Of course, always look into possible scholarships you can apply for to help cut some of the costs. If you plan to only focus on school, and want to do an on-campus program, there are ways to get your Master’s paid for. Assistantships and fellowships can sometimes not only take care of your tuition, but even give you a monthly stipend for living.
On-campus vs. Online
When deciding on your masters, you have to decide how much time you want to and can realistically put into it. If you are hoping to fully focus on school and feel you do better in a classroom, you are definitely going to want to do an on-campus program. On-campus programs can offer a lot of face-to-face academic support and a variety social activities. If you need to or prefer to work around your current schedule, whether that be due to work or family reasons, getting your masters online is a fantastic and convenient choice. There are so many great programs that you can find online, and studying online is a great way to further your education and credentials at your own pace. If you think online is better for your schedule, but are perhaps a little wary of the idea of being an online student, there are a lot of great tips for maintaining your focus as an online student. Also, there are so many available resources accessible to online students, so you are still getting an incredible education outside of the classroom. The difference is you get to do it from the comfort of your home and at times that are convenient for you.
Graduate school is a great way to build your credentials and advance your career prospects. But it’s a big decision and an immense commitment, so take your time to think seriously about it. Graduate school will always be there, so there is no need to rush your decision. Good luck femmes!