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Should You Apply to Grad School?

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    You’ve conquered undergrad and spent some time in the working world. But now you’re wondering if going to grad school is the right next move for your career goals. Getting an advanced degree is a big commitment of time, money, and effort. How can you decide if grad school is worth it for you?

    The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Pursuing a graduate degree can unlock new opportunities and put you on an upward professional trajectory. But it’s a personal decision that requires careful consideration of your specific aspirations and circumstances. In this post, we’ll examine the key factors to help you determine if grad school aligns with your future plans.

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    Reasons to apply to grad school

    Grad school graduates in cap and gown One of the primary benefits of an advanced degree is the ability to gain specialized, in-depth expertise in your field. While undergrad provides a broad foundation, grad programs allow you to dive deeper into a particular area of study. This concentrated knowledge can position you as a leading expert and sought-after job candidate.

    There’s also the potential for significantly higher earning power with an advanced degree on your resume. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with a master’s degree earn median weekly earnings nearly 20% higher than those with just a bachelor’s. And those with doctoral degrees see median earnings over 40% higher. Over the span of a career, this salary boost can really add up.

    Grad school isn’t just about making more money, though. It can open doors to advanced positions and leadership roles that may be unattainable otherwise. Many senior executive jobs, for instance, require an MBA or other relevant graduate credential. Certain protected career fields like law, medicine, and psychology mandate specific grad degrees as well.

    But beyond pure career motivations, pursuing a passion through grad studies can be immensely rewarding on a personal level. If you’ve always dreamed of becoming a scholar, writer, artist, or academic, an advanced degree like an MFA or PhD could bring that vision to life. Or perhaps you want to totally shift gears to an entirely new professional path – grad school creates a natural pivot point.

    One of the primary benefits of an advanced degree is the ability to gain specialized, in-depth expertise in your field. While undergrad provides a broad foundation, grad programs allow you to dive deeper into a particular area of study. This concentrated knowledge can position you as a leading expert and sought-after job candidate.

    There’s also the potential for significantly higher earning power with an advanced degree on your resume. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with a master’s degree earn median weekly earnings nearly 20% higher than those with just a bachelor’s. And those with doctoral degrees see median earnings over 40% higher. Over the span of a career, this salary boost can really add up.

    Grad school isn’t just about making more money, though. It can open doors to advanced positions and leadership roles that may be unattainable otherwise. Many senior executive jobs, for instance, require an MBA or other relevant graduate credential. Certain protected career fields like law, medicine, and psychology mandate specific grad degrees as well.

    But beyond pure career motivations, pursuing a passion through grad studies can be immensely rewarding on a personal level. If you’ve always dreamed of becoming a scholar, writer, artist, or academic, an advanced degree like an MFA or PhD could bring that vision to life. Or perhaps you want to totally shift gears to an entirely new professional path – grad school creates a natural pivot point.

    Grad school graduates in cap and gown

    Evaluating the costs of grad school

    Of course, all those potential upsides of graduate studies come at a price tag. According to EducationData.org, the average cost of a master’s degree from a public university is $66,340. And that’s just an average – elite programs can easily exceed six figures.

    Beyond just tuition, there are also fees, books and supplies, housing and living expenses to account for. Unless you have substantial savings or get funded through grants, assistantships, or employer tuition assistance, you’ll likely need to take out student loans. This debt burden is a major consideration, as you don’t want overwhelming loan payments to negate the income benefits of your advanced degree.

    It’s critical to map out the comprehensive cost of any grad program you’re considering and have a viable plan to finance it, either through savings, income during school, or responsibly managed loans. You’ll also want to realistically forecast your expected post-grad earnings based on employment data for that career path. Does the long-term return on investment make the upfront costs worthwhile? Running the numbers in detail can help you decide.

    Grad school admissions requirements

    graduate student working on laptop If you’ve weighed the potential benefits against the costs and decided to move forward with applying to graduate programs, you’ll need to prepare for a fairly rigorous admissions process. Highly ranked grad schools are extremely competitive, so you’ll want to start planning well in advance.

    Most programs require submission of standardized test scores like the GRE or GMAT, along with a minimum undergraduate GPA (usually 3.0 or higher from an accredited university). You’ll need to gather transcripts, recommendation letters, and a statement of purpose that sells your academic goals. Relevant work experience, undergraduate research projects, and a polished resume can also strengthen your application.

    Given the competitiveness of top grad school programs, working with an experienced graduate school admissions counselor can be invaluable. A counselor will help ensure you craft a compelling admissions package, manage logistics like deadlines and paperwork, and identify good-fit programs and schools based on your qualifications. Their expert guidance goes a long way.

    If you’ve weighed the potential benefits against the costs and decided to move forward with applying to graduate programs, you’ll need to prepare for a fairly rigorous admissions process. Highly ranked grad schools are extremely competitive, so you’ll want to start planning well in advance.

    Most programs require submission of standardized test scores like the GRE or GMAT, along with a minimum undergraduate GPA (usually 3.0 or higher from an accredited university). You’ll need to gather transcripts, recommendation letters, and a statement of purpose that sells your academic goals. Relevant work experience, undergraduate research projects, and a polished resume can also strengthen your application.

    Given the competitiveness of top grad school programs, working with an experienced graduate school admissions counselor can be invaluable. A counselor will help ensure you craft a compelling admissions package, manage logistics like deadlines and paperwork, and identify good-fit programs and schools based on your qualifications. Their expert guidance goes a long way.

    graduate student working on laptop

    Alternatives to consider before applying

    While a graduate degree is a necessity for some careers, it may not be an automatic next step for everyone. There are several alternatives prospective students should consider first before taking the grad school plunge:

    • Gain more work experience: Many students fresh out of undergrad lack substantive real-world job experience that grad programs covet. A few years in an entry-level role related to your intended degree could make you a much stronger applicant down the road.
    • Pursue certifications or online courses: For career shifts or building specialized skills without the full degree commitment, professional certifications from bodies like PMI or Google, or focused online courses, can be more cost-effective.
    • Attend local community programs: Look for reasonably-priced seminars, boot camps, workshops, or night classes at your local community college to get your feet wet before a full-fledged grad program.

    While these alternatives aren’t as prestigious as a graduate degree, they allow you to explore interests, build knowledge, and gain relevant experience first to ensure grad school is truly the right path for you before making that significant investment.

    Full-time vs part-time grad school

    For those who decide to pursue a graduate degree, another key decision point is whether to attend full-time or part-time. There are pros and cons to each option depending on your personal circumstances.

    Program Type Duration Commitment Level Career Impact Financial Considerations
    Full-time program 1-2 years Total commitment; fully immersed in academics Puts career on hold Likely requires more loans for living expenses
    Part-time and evening program Longer duration due to part-time schedule Balances with work; classes scheduled around work hours Continues career and applies learnings in real-time Can maintain income, potentially reducing the need for loans

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    The best route for you depends on your financial situation, home obligations, and how quickly you want to complete the program. If you have ample savings or employer assistance, doing it full-time may make sense to just power through. But don’t overlook the benefits of going part-time at night or online if that allows you to gain income and experience simultaneously.

    Key takeaways and moving forward

    grad student in graduation regalia holding deploma Deciding whether to pursue graduate school is a highly personal choice with many variables to consider. There’s no one right answer that applies to everyone.

    If you do decide to apply to graduate school, working with a grad school admissions counselor can provide invaluable guidance. At Prepory, our counselors have years of experience helping students craft compelling applications and identify best-fit programs. We take a personalized approach to ensure you put your best foot forward in the highly competitive grad school admissions process.

    Ultimately, you’ll need to engage in deep self-reflection about your aspirations, lifestyle, finances, and how an advanced degree truly aligns with your vision for the future. An intentional approach will lead to the most rewarding outcome, whatever you decide is the right path.

    Deciding whether to pursue graduate school is a highly personal choice with many variables to consider. There’s no one right answer that applies to everyone.

    If you do decide to apply to graduate school, working with a grad school admissions counselor can provide invaluable guidance. At Prepory, our counselors have years of experience helping students craft compelling applications and identify best-fit programs. We take a personalized approach to ensure you put your best foot forward in the highly competitive grad school admissions process.

    Ultimately, you’ll need to engage in deep self-reflection about your aspirations, lifestyle, finances, and how an advanced degree truly aligns with your vision for the future. An intentional approach will lead to the most rewarding outcome, whatever you decide is the right path.

    grad student in graduation regalia holding deploma

    Contact a Prepory college admissions coach and start your college admissions journey.

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