As an adjunct faculty member for a graduate school program, I regularly encounter 2 types of students: those who know why they’re in grad school… and those who don’t.
The former have a reason outside of acquiring a degree. These students tend to be more focused, more reliable and more driven. They tend to work harder and do better in class.
The latter usually don’t have a true goal in mind – they float around a bit and often do quite poorly. They don’t know what they want and so they don’t work for it. They don’t feel the passion because they’re not really sure if grad school is for them.
That’s not a good place to be. I don’t want that for my students and I certainly don’t want that for you.
Choosing a graduate program is a big step professionally and personally. It might be a logical progression to make more money in your field, to personally accomplish the degree or to learn more about a subject you truly are passionate about.
And of course, it could be a mix of many things. (That’s OK too!) No matter your reason for pursuing grad school, you want to pump the breaks before you jump in and really do some soul searching. Here are 6 questions to kick-start that process:
What do I want to study in grad school?
It sounds silly, but know exactly what you want to study in grad school. If you want to study Instructional Design as a teacher, find a program that mirrors that goal; don’t apply for programs that just approximate what you are interested in.You’ll end up taking classes that aren’t really applicable to your interests or career goals and you’ll find yourself uninspired and unmotivated.
How does this degree further my goals?
Not all professionals need to go to grad school and not all grad school programs are suited to further your personal or professional goals. Know how the degree will connect to the bigger picture and further whatever goals you have for yourself.
How am I paying for grad school?
There are many options for financing grad school: grants, scholarships, loans, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, assistantships and fellowships, and paying out of pocket. Figure out how you’ll pay for grad school through the options that are available to you.
Talk to your spouse so you’re both on the same page. Make sure that your family can absorb whatever negative financial impacts that might occur without putting your finances in serious danger.
Am I suited for this program?
- Are you looking at an online program…but you don’t like online learning?
- Are you unsure that you have the background necessary to make sense of the program?
- Will you be able to put aside enough time to excel?
Carefully think about your abilities, time, career trajectory, personal preferences and family situation before you jump into grad school. If you don’t, you might find yourself unpleasantly surprised…or you might find yourself unable to finish the program altogether.
Is this a good program?
Through my blog, I’ve come across military spouses and significant others who have found themselves in an awful situation. They’re currently in or have finished an undergrad or grad program…and they find out that their degree is basically worthless.
Make sure that your program is accredited and that it is respected in its field to ensure that you don’t end up in the same boat.
And steer away from for-profit colleges. Many are under federal investigation for targeting military-connected students and not delivering appropriate services. You don’t want your time or money mixed up in that kind of a mess.
What are the hallmarks of this program?
Will you be studying with professors who are known for their work? Is it more important for you to be taught by adjuncts who have a lot of career experience but might not be well known in their field? Is there an internship or practicum segment of the program that will offer you invaluable experience you might not get elsewhere? Know what you want (it goes back to why you want to go to grad school) and then see how each program you’re evaluating will get you there through what they offer.
These 6 questions can be hard to answer by yourself. Spend some time talking to your spouse, trusted friends, a mentor and others who may have insight such as professors, professional colleagues or career advisers.
You’ll also want to know the details of the grad programs, the timeline for completion and graduation, and other information that might be pertinent to your goals (like job placement rates or the percentage of graduates who go on to earn their PhDs.)