If you’ve ever thought about graduate school, you know how many factors there are to consider. When you aren’t sure where to start, the weight of that decision can seem overwhelming. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be! We’ve put together a quick guide to help you think through whether or not attending graduate school would be a good fit for your current needs, goals and lifestyle.
Whether you’re currently working full-time, enrolled in an undergraduate program or looking for new opportunities, having an idea of what you want the future to look like is a great place to start.
What type of career do you want to pursue? Have you thoroughly researched the field and discussed the possibility with close friends or family? If possible, try to shadow or at least meet with someone who has the kind of position you want. Before beginning a graduate program, you should be as confident as possible in your desire to enter a chosen field.
Advanced degrees often provide specialized knowledge and training, a competitive advantage in the hiring process and the potential for higher earning power. Depending on your field, though, a graduate degree may or may not be necessary. Look up profiles for people who have job titles you’re interested in on LinkedIn, and find out what their educational background is. Not everyone’s path to a certain role is the same, but this kind of research can help you decide whether a graduate degree will prepare you for the future you imagine.
If you decide to pursue graduate school, it will probably require some level of financial investment. Before comparing schools or programs, take a look at your finances and decide what you would be comfortable spending or taking out in loans each semester. Having a budget (and sticking to it) will help focus your options and prevent undue stress down the road.
When you do begin researching schools, remember to factor all related costs (tuition, living expenses, books, fees, travel, etc.) into the total you can expect to spend as a student.
The Internet is your friend when it comes to preparing for grad school. University websites contain mountains of information about the admission process, program details, student life and more.
At this stage of the process, you will want to begin exploring as many websites as possible. You may want to restrict your search to a certain geographic area, but don’t narrow your choices too quickly. A school you’ve never considered may have a program that’s a perfect match for you — or that offers a unique funding opportunity. The point is to keep an open mind as you build your initial list of options.
Once you have that list, you can begin to compare schools based on your budget and priorities. If you’re struggling with this, try creating your own evaluation categories (e.g., offers professional experience, low student-to-faculty ratio, program duration or university location) and assigning a score for each to the schools you review.
After you’ve narrowed your list of schools, it’s time to think about what course formats will work for your lifestyle. Is the program you’re interested in offered in-person, online or through a blended modality? If classes are offered primarily in-person, when are they typically held? During the day, or in the evenings?
If you need to balance work or other responsibilities with your grad school obligations, plan what that schedule would look like. If the university’s website lists a contact person for your program, you can reach out to them with any questions. If not, contact the admissions office and someone will be able to help connect you.
Each university and program will have its own set of admission requirements. Once you have a final short list, make sure to write down all relevant deadlines and materials needed.
Some common admission requirements are:
You will likely need to contact former professors or bosses to solicit letters of recommendation. Try to give them as much notice as possible (at least one month) to avoid missing the deadline. If you need to take the GRE or another standardized test, schedule it for as soon as you can be ready.
Even if you haven’t made the final decision to attend graduate school, knowing what’s required will keep you from running into any issues when the times comes to apply.
*Fontbonne only requires the GRE for our MS in Computer Science.
Any time we’re faced with a major decision — like whether or not to pursue an advanced degree — it’s easy to become overwhelmed. If you’re feeling stuck, hopefully these five steps will help. And if there’s anything we can do to support you in this process, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Fontbonne’s Office of Admission is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. We can be reached by phone at 314-889-1400 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.