How to Grad School
Originally posted at Flirt With Success.
"TAKE THIS CAREER AND SHOVE IT!" you scream from your rooftop. Lightning cackles in the background. Birds fly away in fear for their lives. It's time, you've decided: you're going back to school.
My first advice is to stop.
Don't make a 30,000 dollar impulse buy. Debt is bad.
Let's think things through.
Why are you going back to grad school?
More money! If you're taking out student loans to go to grad school, you aren't going to be making more money -- you're going to be paying more bills.
It's free! If you have the time and energy for school, then by all means go for it. But just because it's free doesn't mean it's worth the effort.
A Master's degree will advance my current career. Are you sure? There are a couple of fields where that is definitely true: social work, psychiatry, some teaching. Other times, you're better off trying to get real work experience.
A Master's degree will let me change my career. OK, if you think that it's necessary. I mean, this was me: I sought my Master's degree after working for almost 5 years. I have an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, and am studying something only tangentially related. This is also the path of most of my classmates. But, just because this is how I handled my situation doesn't mean it's the best way for you.
I just finished my Bachelor's degree... ...Oh, God.
...and don't know what else to do. No. No, no, nope, no. Go do something else.
...and I just want to school to be over. I'm glad you can recognize that. You need to stop; you're burning or burnt out. Go work. Go rest. Come back when you're ready. Grad school will still be there later.
...and need a Master's degree for my field. I switched careers after less than 5 years. You might wanna make sure you made the right choice by working in the real world before you continue school.
...and I love school! How fabulous! That doesn't mean you should keep going.
Then when should I go to grad school?
You should only go to grad school if you can answer, with passion, the following question:
Why are you studying what you are studying?
If you are not going to grad school with a clear sense of purpose, you should not be there.
You do not go to grad school to get a degree. You go to grad school with a clear, precise goal.
You don't need a Master's in Psychiatry. You need the skills to open your own practice in couple's counseling.
You don't need a Master's in Computer Science. You needed more experience with programming robotics so you can help invent more in the future.
What is your goal after your degree? What interests you about your selected program?
That's not just an admissions question; it's something you need to actually care about.
You absolutely need to know this before you even apply to graduate school.
So...what's so different about grad school?
The key difference between graduate school and undergraduate school is how much every decision you make towards your degree matters.
On the first day of class, the professor will ask you why you took the class. And he means it.
When you talk with your advisor, she will ask you why you're interested in a class. And she means it.
Because they want to know what your bigger goal is.
You don't get to answer that question with 'because it met a requirement.'
Nothing in graduate school is a throw away course you take to get an easy A. Everything matters.
Should I work before graduate school?
I do not recommended going to graduate school without at least a few years of real work experience.
Real work experience lets you develop connections with your co-workers and bosses. It doesn't matter if you hate or love your co-workers: people are wiggly, living resources that can be helpful regardless of your opinions of them. Even if the way Jannet From Accounting© sniffs her nose every five minutes drives you up the wall and back, you'll also be forever grateful to her for teaching you your mad Excel skills.
It also gives you real reflection into the needs of The Workforce. *dramatic music*
The Workforce is not the big scary thing you may think it is. You will use your experience in The Workforce to come up with your thesis, have discussions with your classmates, and work on assignments. This is true even if your time in The Workforce isn't in the field you're studying. Any experience is valuable, even if that experience is having to deal with Jannet From Accounting©.