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Things to Consider Before Applying to Graduate School

So you’re done with your undergrad studies and you’re considering taking another scholarly step with graduate school. The decision to attend graduate school can have frustrating results if taken lightly. So to help make the decision wiser here a few some vital things to consider:

Purpose

As in all things in life, “why” behind your actions is most important question to ask before going to graduate school. Why do you really want to study for a graduate degree? Some careers require the additional studies to function in them, and some don’t. Some people pursue grad studies because they are passionate about learning and solving problems in a certain field of study, while others acquire further degrees for the reputation and honour it may bring to their name; frankly because it sounds good having a string of alphabetical prefixes or suffixes added or pronounced alongside their name. Added pecuniary value may also be a reason; graduate students generally earn more that their undergrad colleagues in the workplace. Pressure too can be a reason, pressure coming from society, from one’s family, or even from within yourself to prove one’s academic brilliance. With all these factors considered, what is truly is your personal reason for wanting to attend grad school?

A graduate program is a stringent conquest albeit possibly very rewarding; it takes a lot of time and expense to acquire, as we will see below. I encourage anyone who wants to embark on this journey to meticulously consider the reason for choosing to pursue it before taking the leap.

If you need more perspectives, consult someone you know who is currently enrolled in graduate school or attended one and is currently working. Find out their reasons for their choice, and also the benefits or lack thereof of their choice. You can also speak with the staff at the Career Services department to get counsel on this important decision.

Be true to yourself, at the end of the day, only you will bear the effort, time, and money needed to embark and complete a grad program.

Emotional and Intellectual Stamina

Tying in with your purpose for attending a graduate school are the demands this endeavour will place on you if you decide to pursue it. The 2 to 5 years you may be investing into graduate school will not be without its trying moments.

Graduate school requires self-direction, ambition, and a clear sense of what you want to study and why. How self-motivated and resilient are you? Unlike undergraduate school where demands are placed on you are from your instructors in the form of classes, tests, exams, etc., although grad school has all these, you are more self-reliant.  Would you be able to work and school at the same time? Are you considering studying in a different country? Can you handle being away from friends, family and familiar surroundings? Ask yourself; is this the best right time for me to embark on this journey?

During the reconnaissance and planning phase, you will get to know exactly what the demands are from the graduate schools you’re considering applying to, and thus determine if you’re able and willing to engage such demands. The rigor of graduate program is more intense than undergrad programs, so you must expect to invest more emotionally and intellectually.

You will be attending graduate school with other ambitious students. Having a whole class of high achievers can be daunting, but it can also push you to be your best. Consider how this may affect you in completing your studies.

In summary, no one wants to begin a project they don’t intend to conclude, the same applies to graduate school. Know as much as you can about what you’re about to get into to, have a clear goal from the onset, and a plan, and the necessary discipline, to achieve your goal.

Reconnaissance and Planning

In this phase, you must research graduate schools and the programs that alight with your goals. No two programs are alike. Each has its own culture, faculty, curriculum, research focus, students, setting, etc. Gather all needed information to see if you are qualified or not, as well as the requirements. And don’t forget to take note of the deadlines. Create a spreadsheet to keep track of the different programs, professor contact information, deadlines, requirements, stipend/scholarship information, and addresses of each university. As much as you can, apply to more than one graduate school program. In this way, the probability of getting into one is higher.

As much as it is possible, visit the campus. Interact with professors, current and graduated students, and other staff. Get as much of the feel of the physical environment of the university as much as you can. Visit living quarters if needed. If a physical visit is not feasible, most universities off virtual tours of their campuses. Also, skype interactions are usually available. Learn the maximum and average length of your intended program; what is expected of you in each course in the program, and research or thesis requirements.

Learning as much as you can will help you make a well-informed decision. As much as possible, leave nothing to chance, be well-equipped with information about the grad school and programs, and plan accordingly.

Money

At the end of the day, a lot of things boil down to money, how will your education get funded?

Money is certainly a big factor in influencing your choice of attending a graduate school, but how big of a choice is it? As of 2012, according to Statistics Canada’s (StatsCan) Survey of Financial Security, student debt grew 24.4% between 2005 and 2012. A study in 2013 from TD Bank found average debt load sits at around $27,000. StatsCan also observed students enrolled in a graduate program paid an average of $6,210 in tuition fees in 2014/2015, up 2.8% from last year. MBAs and Dentistry remain the most expensive graduate programs.

Before embarking on a grad program, you must determine if you’re financially capable of completing the course. Here are a few ways your may find financial support:

Work: If you intend to work while studying, your employer may be willing to offer financial assistance. Most employers require that the coursework have some connection to the employee’s job role–tax courses for an accountant, say, or computer science training for someone working in IT. Even when a company doesn’t have a formal tuition remission program, workers can often earn assistance if they demonstrate to the boss how a course of study could add value. Also, research and teaching assistantships positions are normally available at individual departments of universities. Other work opportunities may be available on the university’s campus if you prefer to work close to school; make sure to keep an eye out for such opportunities. All these help cover at least a part of the tuition, and look great on your resume.

Scholarships: Graduate programs typically award scholarships and fellowships based on merit depending on the school and application process. At many schools, aid is given out by academic departments or the specific graduate schools such as MBA or law school, instead of a central financial aid office, so you may have to do some digging, as aforementioned in the reconnaissance phase. A graduate admissions official or someone affiliated with your desired program should be available at such graduate schools to help you sort through the options.

Borrow: If you must borrow, borrow smart. Consider the statistics provided above; if you’re in debt already it may not be the wisest choice to get into more debt. Study carefully interest rates attached to any loans, and speak to academic and financial advisors before taking any loans.

There are many opportunities to get funds for your graduate education; you must be proactively searching them out and taking advantage of them

Graduate school is a huge commitment with high expectations, and it will be an extremely demanding, although possibly very rewarding, experience. If you are passionate about research and writing; if you can see yourself dedicating 2-7 years of your life to a certain field or topic; if you enjoy intellectual challenges and aspire to publish, teach, or research as a career path; then graduate school would be a wonderful opportunity to develop the skills to do what you love.

In the end, graduate school is a big decision! Make sure you take it all into consideration before making a final decision.