Considering Graduate School

If you're like many college students, you've probably given some thought to attending graduate or professional school. Success in grad school can depend on the extent to which you have thought through your career and educational goals. It's a decision that deserves careful consideration. Here are some issues to think about:

Why are you motivated to attend?

The best reasons for enrolling in a graduate program are

  1. you love a particular subject and want to study it in depth.
  2. you need an advanced degree to enter the profession of your choice

If factors other than these are shaping your decision, you may want to think carefully before proceeding.

For instance, people who are apprehensive about venturing into the job market may view grad school as a way to postpone difficult career decisions. While an advanced degree can make you more marketable for some occupations, it's not necessarily the key to finding satisfying employment. There are plenty of worthwhile and rewarding jobs available to Bachelor's degree graduates--it just takes time and effort to discover what they are and which are appropriate for you.

Some students also face pressure to attend graduate school from parents or well-meaning mentors. Make sure the advice you heed from others reaffirms your own goals. Graduate study is focused and highly self-directed- it's difficult to make a go of it when you're not motivated from within.

Are you ready to commit to a particular field of study

Perhaps you're sold on the idea of graduate school, but can't narrow it down to just one field. You may be able to define your interests before gradation by researching areas of study in the Career Resource Center, talking with professors, and reading literature from different universities. If that doesn't help, a year or more away from school may give you a clearer perspective. Many professional schools actually prefer that applicants have a few years work experience before they apply.

Also consider how interested you are in academic study. Do you enjoy theory and research, or is it the degree at the end of the program that excites you? An advanced degree may not be the only way to achievement. In the performing arts, for example, or the business world, real-life experience can be more valuable than graduate seminars. Understanding your preferred learning style can help you not only choose what sort of program would be most appropriate, but also to assess the benefits of graduate or professional school in general.

Have you thought about long range career and lifestyle goals?

Think about the impact a graduate degree will have on your life. When you select a graduate field of study, you're also to some extent defining a profession and a lifestyle. Can you envision yourself as a physician, an art history professor, or a psychologist? What is the employment outlook like in that field? Make arrangements to talk with professionals about the rewards and drawbacks of their work. Currently enrolled graduates can provide valuable insights as well.

A full-time Master's program usually takes one to two years, while Ph.D.'s and some professional degrees require three or more. During this period you'll focus intensely on your academic subjects and the people in your program, forfeiting salary and workday routine. If you go part-time while holding a full-time job, you will spend several years without much time for a personal life. Are you comfortable with the thought of spending a few more years as a student? Perspective is important, and a sense of long-term direction can make your graduate school experience more meaningful.

Is it worth the financial investment?

Given the costs you and/or your family have incurred at New Paltz over the past few years, this can be legitimate concern. Everyone places a different value on education, and ultimately you'll have to decide if graduate study is worth the financial sacrifice. Before making that decision, however, you should familiarize yourself with potential funding sources.

Fellowships, or scholarships, may be awarded by individual departments or institutions, as well as by outside organizations. Institution based aid most frequently takes the form of graduate assistantship. Graduate (or teaching, or research) assistants work part-time in exchange for a stipend and tuition reimbursement. Loans are the primary source of government assistance. If you are open to the thought of working full-time and taking classes on the side, there are some employers who offer tuition reimbursement as part of their benefit package.

The types of aid available to you will vary tremendously from one institution or program to another. Make sure you investigate fully before closing off your options; there are a number of resources in the Career Resource Center to get you started.