Applying to Graduate School? 5 Things to Consider
Although many students have put off applying to graduate school in this past decade due to a dwindling economy and decreased ability to achieve low interest student loans, many students are now thinking about how a graduate degree could significantly increase their career potential. Whether a student is considering applying to graduate school directly after finishing an undergraduate program or a few years after they’ve been in the field, there are a few things to think about during the application process.
1 – Will you be applying for an assistant position (TA or RA)?
Working as a TA (teacher’s assistant) or an RA (research assistant) can provide a great deal of financial support for students paying their way through a graduate program. However, these particular jobs are often hard to obtain and are a significant time commitment. They will probably take up as much time as a part-time job but will provide a grad student with valuable experience in the field and countless networking abilities. If an applicant feels they will only have a successful academic experience if they work as a TA, they should brainstorm for other options due to the highly competitive nature of this position (READ: “Tips From a San Diego College Tutor: 5 Ways to Transition Back to College”).
2 – Will you be attending school full-time or part-time?
Some students will be able to quit their jobs and attend graduate school full-time while others will need to work at least 20 hours per week to make ends meet. Other still will continue in their full-time position in their field and attend graduate school in the evening or through a remote education program. It’s important for potential students to speak with an admissions counselor to see if they will be able to successfully attend the program part-time or if that is even an option. On the other hand, students who wish to study full-time should make a financial plan in order to pay for their full-time studies.
3 – Will the school you’re applying to provide financial assistance in the form of work exchange or scholarships?
Some graduate programs provide financial assistance in any number of ways. It’s important for applicants to think about whether or not they will be able to obtain a scholarship or part-time job on campus to help finance their studies. Additionally, students are smart to do some research and find out what their chances are of receiving a scholarship. For example, if 1 student out of 10 receives financial assistance, that’s not too bad. However, if 1 out of 100 students receive financial aid, it’s not looking good.
4 – Will the school be paying you to get a degree or will you be paying the school?
Some schools will actually pay graduate students a salary to study for their degree. This is generally found in the sciences but may exist anywhere depending on the university. In this case, graduate school becomes very attractive and may include subsidized housing, a living salary, and excellent work experience in exchange for help on various research projects. On the other hand, the majority of students will be shelling out tens of thousands of dollars per year to obtain their degree (READ: “What to Consider if You Plan on Going to Grad School”).
5 – Are you seeking a degree for personal enrichment or to improve a career path?
Some students attend graduate school primarily for personal enrichment. If this is the case they should think about the time commitment and finances required to obtain such a degree without potential career gain. Of course, each student is in a different situation and the opportunity to study for personal enrichment can be a fantastic one. Alternatively, if the student is attending graduate school primarily to advance their career, they are encouraged to determine if their specific degree program will be lucrative in their chosen field.
Although there are many excellent reasons to pursue a graduate degree, students are encouraged to think through what their academic experience will be like and how it will mix with their current lifestyle and responsibilities. A student attending graduate school at 22 will likely have a different experience than someone applying at 32 or 42 . Because the pursuit of a graduate degree is a huge financial and time commitment, it’s important to think through exactly what a student would like to achieve from this type of program.
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