Should I Apply to Graduate School?

College Counseling Tutorial

Should I Apply to Graduate School?


Back in the day, a bachelor’s degree was special, but nowadays everybody and their mother has one. Some think graduate school will sort them from the crowd of job seekers, but it certainly isn’t for everyone. If you’re thinking about graduate studies, slow down and consider a few things first.

Sample Problem

The problem is, many students apply to graduate school just because it’s the next thing to do. Colleges pitch their programs as a great way to guarantee a larger salary, give back to the world and even live longer. But graduate school isn’t the only way (or even the best way) to do any of those things.

My first piece of advice? If you can skip grad school, do it. A master’s degree may seem like leveling up, but there’s no reason to min-max your résumé if you can start gaining experience points. There are some things you can only learn through actual field experience, and grad school isn’t going to teach you those things.

Do you have a résumé?

Speaking of résumés, do you have one? If not, get one. Put together a smart, well researched, well edited, peer-reviewed résumé, and use that résumé to look for a job. You may find yourself under qualified for the jobs you want—and then grad school may be a good idea—but then again, you can learn quite a bit online for free or in a course at a community college.

Have you done an internship?

And if you haven’t wrapped up college yet, then get an internship! Finding an internship will allow you to practice the same skills it takes to find a job. Also, sometimes internships turn into jobs, and an internship will provide you with hands-on experience that will separate you from other graduates with the same education.

It may sound unfair at first, but employers would much rather work with someone they know and like than a stranger with an impressive résumé or fancy degree. Many jobs aren’t even advertised, because the organization hires from within. That internship is a good way to get your foot in the door.

As a side benefit, your internship may teach that you hate the job you thought you wanted. An internship is like a no-risk trial period. Try it out for a few months, then cancel your subscription if it’s not for you.

Have you tried full-time work?

Also, having a full-time job can help put a lot of things into perspective for young job-seekers. Working 40 hours a week, especially at a job you hate, helps you think about what you want to do for the rest of your life and the types of sacrifices you’ll have to make to get there.

On the other hand, if you get a job you love that has room for promotion, then further schooling may be unnecessary. Also, some jobs will pay for you to pursue a higher degree, so why pay for a degree yourself when you can get your employer to pay for it?


OK, that may sound well and good for someone only interested in making money, but what if you just love learning? Or what if you know your career plan requires a higher degree?

One thing school offers like no other thing, is a community of peers. College is a great way to meet other people deeply interested in the same things you are: peers who may know more than you, peers who think differently than you, and peers who will challenge you in ways that friends and co-workers can’t. That is a valuable experience that you can’t get elsewhere.

What program are you applying to?

So you’re ready to apply? Well, make sure you’ve thoroughly researched the programs available to you.

Don’t waste your time and money at a school that is not going to give you exactly what you need. Each level of education you pursue should be more and more specific to the field you wish to master. Not every school has the same engineering programs, English programs or art programs. There are subtle differences between each and every one. English is a very vague subject: There are mediaeval literature programs, folklore programs, creative writing MFAs focusing on children’s literature, creative writing MFAs focusing on teaching, rhetorical studies programs, etc. Every program has a different personality, so look for one that’s compatible with your own.

Collect a long list of schools and graduate programs, and don’t settle for anything less than perfect. There are so many options out there (all over the country and all over the world), so there’s no reason to settle for one that’s not going to give you exactly what you need.

Have you considered a PhD vs a Master’s program?

Also, if you plan to pursue a doctorate, look at doctorate programs along with master’s programs. Many doctorate programs include graduate level work, so pursuing a masters degree may be redundant.

Have you applied?

In the end, there’s nothing to it but to do it. Send out your applications and hope for the best.

If you don’t get into a particular school, then you may not have been ready for what they were offering. Go back to step one and ask yourself, what did I want to get from grad school in the first place? Can I skip grad school? Is there another school that might better suit my needs? Did I take an appropriate amount of time to prepare for grad school?

Don’t be discouraged. Don’t give up. But don’t waste time on something that isn’t working out, either. If there’s a brick wall in your path, don’t keep charging into it. Go around it. Bettering yourself requires knowing how to navigate obstacles rather than running into them.

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