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Are You Ready for Graduate School?

Bridget Kulla, FastWeb.com

Earning a graduate degree can further your career and raise your salary. It also demands a lot of hard work, a significant time commitment and substantial financial support. You have a lot of options after graduating college. If you’re thinking about graduate school, make sure it’s the right choice.

Master’s degree holders earned an average of $10,000 more a year that those with only a bachelor’s degree, according to a 2003 Salary.com survey. Professional degree holders’ yearly salaries were nearly double that of those with bachelors degrees.

Having a graduate degree on your resume can accelerate your climb up the career ladder. The knowledge you gain in the few years of graduate school may take you much longer to learn while on the job.

For some professions, like medicine and the law, a graduate degree is essential to advance. In these cases, going to grad school is an essential part of the career path.

Pursuing graduate study is not for everyone. Ask yourself these questions to see if it is right for you:

What are your career goals?

Before you head straight to graduate school, take time to assess your career goals. Do you need an advanced degree to achieve your goals? If you’re unsure about your career path, attending graduate school could turn out to be a waste of time and money. Working for a few years in the field you are interested in could give you experience and help you decide if you want to commit to a graduate degree.

Are you passionate about a specific area of study?

During undergraduate study, you were probably encouraged to take a wide variety of courses in different subjects. Graduate studies focus on a much more specific academic area. For example, if you want to go to grad school for English, you’ll have to choose a specialization such as American literature, literary criticism, history of the English language or comparative literature. You must have a genuine interest in a field and a strong desire to learn to succeed in graduate school.

Are you motivated?

Graduate school is a lot of work. Earning an advanced degree could take from two to seven years of hard work. You must be motivated to pursue a field of study despite the high level of stress you may encounter. “The coursework was very challenging, but the most difficult aspect of graduate school is learning how to be very productive on your own. No one is around to motivate you but yourself,” says Maria Sierra, a graduate biology student at the University of Chicago.

Is graduate school a smart move financially?

While graduate degree holders tend to earn higher average salaries than those who only have a bachelor’s degree, attending graduate school is a pricy endeavor. Before you decide to enroll in graduate school, consider how much more you are likely to earn with an advanced degree as well as the costs of graduate education. The average debt accumulated for graduate degrees ranges from $27,000 to $114,000, according to FinAid.com.

If you asked yourself these questions and are still unsure if grad school is right for you, you may want to spend more time thinking about your options. How will spending the money to earn an advanced degree fit into your career and personal goals? Taking time off before applying may help clarify the correct choice. A year off between college graduation and graduate school could be a welcome break from the academic grind. “I recommend taking some time off between undergraduate and grad school to explore the area and make sure you’re willing to completely commit yourself to it,” Sierra says.

Graduate school is an excellent opportunity to delve into a field of study that interests you and further your career plans. You must be prepared to make a big commitment of time, money and work. Consider the pros and cons before enrolling.


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