At some point in your recent past you have decided to consider graduate study. You may or may not end up going in that direction, but for now it is on your mind. Before going any further, ask yourself the following seven questions:
- Why do I want to do this?
- To truly learn more
- To add a credential to your resume
- To have a better chance of being promoted
- To have more credibility in your chosen field
- To change careers
- To increase your earning potential
- Because of pressure from your family
- Because of a need to feel better about yourself
- Because you don’t know what else to do at the moment
- Something else
Why do I want to do this now?
- Because you are mentally/emotionally ready for a new challenge
- Because your employer is encouraging you to do so, and might help sponsor you
- Because you have reached a plateau in your career
- Because you are not getting any younger
- Because it is a logical next step for you professionally
- Because you are ready financially
- Because you have the necessary time to commit
- Something else
- What type of academic/professional degree am I seeking?
If you are seeking a degree in law, medicine or business, you have a fairly clear idea of the type of professional graduate degree you need. However, if you are thinking about education, social service, public policy, the humanities, etc., you may want to do a more thorough search of the types of degrees earned for the area in which you are interested. For example, you may not need a Ph.D. to advance in the area of public policy; a master’s degree may be sufficient. Here are several degree types:
- M.A., M.S., J.D., MBA, MSW, MSJ, M.Ed., etc.,
- Ph.D., Ed.D., LL.M., M.D., Psy.D., etc.
- Joint degree programs, i.e., Business and Law, Journalism and Public Relations
- Is there a geographic region of your country or the world where you would like to study? Perhaps you have always wanted to live in another part of your country or go abroad for graduate study. Knowing what you are thinking as to location will help guide your search. However, at this early stage be careful not to rule out a certain location completely. During the search process, you may find that an option emerges in that geographic region that may be worth a closer look.
- What type of learning/student experience are you looking for? Do you want an environment where faculty and students have an interactive learning approach? Are you more interested in a lecture style? Do you want to have a lot of social interaction with fellow students outside the classroom? Are you going to focus primarily on your coursework? Do you have a preference of studying at a more research-oriented institution? Do you prefer a public or private college/university?
- If a significant other/children are going to be impacted by your plans, how are you involving them in the search process? Graduate students with partners/children have an additional responsibility/added dimension when thinking about graduate study. All are impacted by the experience. Adjustments need to be discussed, anticipated and managed. Please do not leave this important part of your planning unattended. Building a sense of consensus and excitement with all involved in the experience will reap huge dividends when the inevitable rough spots appear on the journey. To that end it is important for you to consider the next question.
- Should you consider a full-time or part-time program? Most graduate degree programs can be pursued on a full- or part-time basis. There are pros and cons for both. Going full-time means finishing more quickly, but also means a possible change in employment status and income. As for the student experience, full-time students tend to develop more of a social network, which translates into continued personal and professional relationships after graduation. Part-time students are usually juggling the demands of their studies with employment obligations. This does not allow much time for socializing and developing networks. However, the benefits of employment tend to lessen the pressure of finances.
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