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Should I Go to Graduate School?

With the increasing prevalence of bachelor’s degrees, grad school is becoming a popular way to sort oneself from the crowd, but it certainly isn’t for everyone. If you’re thinking about applying to grad school, you should consider a few things first:

1. Ask yourself what you want from graduate school

Grad school is a lot of money to spend and a lot of time to waste “just because.” Make sure your reasons for going to grad school are ones that will fit in with your life plan.

Also, there are much more fulfilling ways to postpone adulthood than more schooling. Travel somewhere. Study a new religion. Pursue a love interest. School isn’t the only way to learn, and it certainly isn’t the only way to live.

If you plan to pursue a doctorate, look at doctorate programs along with master’s programs. A lot of doctorate programs include graduate level work, so pursuing a masters degree may be redundant.

2. Seriously pursue work in your chosen field

If you can skip grad school, do it. There is no reason to add more education to your résumé if you can start adding experience. There are some things you can only learn through actual field experience, and grad school isn’t going to teach you those things.

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. See what skills the job requires, and if those skills match up with the skills you have. You might be able to learn some for free online or in a course at a community college.

And if you haven’t yet completed your undergraduate studies, 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 internships will provide you with hands-on experience that will separate you from other graduates with the same education.

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. Take advantage of that.

3. Research schools thoroughly

Don’t waste your time and money at a school that is not going to give you exactly what you want. Each level of education you pursue should be more and more specific to the skills you wish to acquire. Not every school has the same engineering programs, English programs or art programs. There are subtle differences between each and every one. Pay attention to the courses offered. Look for a school that is going to give you exactly what you need to find work. 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.

A good résumé comes down to experience and skills. If you’re not gaining work experience, then your school should be teaching you marketable skills.

4. Take some time off from school and work

If you can afford it—even if it means moving back in with parents or guardians—take some time to do nothing. This may be the last time you’ll ever get to, so cherish it. Also, having no money helps you to appreciate what it takes to make money, and what you’re willing to do to get it.

With this free time, you’ll be able to put together your application materials. That means putting together a portfolio, collecting letters of recommendation, taking the GREs or other standardized tests, and starting on your admission essays and personal statements.

5. Get a full time job

Working 40 hours a week, especially at a job you hate, helps to put a lot of things in perspective. You start thinking about what you want to do for the rest of your life and the types of sacrifices you’ll have to make to get what you want.

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?

6. Apply

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 bullheadedly charge into it. Go around it. Bettering yourself requires knowing how to navigate obstacles rather than running into them.