Is Graduate School for You?
By Betsy A. Hays, APR, Fellow PRSA, and Tori R. Terhune, authors of “Life After College: 10 Steps to Build a Life You Love.”
This is a tough question for many people. For some, it’s an automatic “yes,” but for most the answer is “maybe.” Let us help you get off the “maybe train” and make a concrete and appropriate decision for YOU.
Why are you thinking about earning an advanced degree?
First thing you want to do is ponder your motivation. Be clear on why you want to move forward and you will most certainly increase your chance for success. Graduate school is tough. If your motivation isn’t powerful enough, you might not make it to the finish line.
If your chosen career path mandates a graduate degree, obviously the decision is much easier. But if it isn’t “necessary” for you to have a master’s degree in order to advance, you still might want to pursue it. And the desire to have an advanced degree because it is important to YOU is a fine reason all by itself.
Determine the “how” and “when”.
Ponder your career goals, how you feel about school, how you envision your future self, how this will affect others in your life, the availability of your support network, cost/financial resources, and timing as you make your decision.
Not-So-Good Reasons to Go to Graduate School
- I’m bored.
- I have nothing else to do.
- I didn’t get a job yet, so…
- I need a way to kill time before I…
- It would be really cool if people called me “Doctor…”
Be clear and honest with yourself. If you are solid with your “why,” “how” and “when” – proceed!
When selecting your graduate school program, the key to success is research. Evaluate the different aspects of your program:
- Student Population & Size
- Take a peek at your courses.
First, evaluate the curriculum of your potential programs. If you are reading the course catalog and can’t wait to take every single class, then that program has potential for you. Graduate school is a lot of work, so you want to be excited about your coursework. Look at whether or not the culminating experience is a thesis, project, comprehensive exam(s), or a combination of these. Depending on whether you are also pondering a Ph.D., the end of your master’s program will be important.
Research the faculty.
You’ll also want to explore the faculty – what are their research agendas? What kind of academic and professional networks do they have? Would you want these folks as mentors? You will typically partner with one or more faculty members for your research projects, and if you aren’t interested in what they know the most about, it won’t be a good match. Talk to students (current and former). Ask them if they would attend that school again knowing what they now know.
Evaluate the school as a whole.
Next, check out each school’s student population, cost, size, and anything else that is important to you. Think about what kind of experience you want and try to match your choice with as many of your preferences as possible.
NOTE: It makes a lot of sense to get your master’s degree from a different university than where you obtained your bachelor’s degree. We know this isn’t always possible, but going somewhere new opens up all kinds of networking and learning possibilities for you. You can also live in a different city, state, or country – allowing you to broaden so many horizons!
On top of all of this – make sure you enjoy it. Graduate school can be stressful, especially when you are juggling a job (possibly full-time) and, perhaps, a family or other responsibilities. Be sure you take care of your health so you’ll have the stamina to make it to the finish line. This is a big step, and one that will help define you both as a professional and as a person.
Ponder deeply, research mightily, and then jump in with both feet. We are rooting for you!
What do you think? Is Grad School for you? Tweet us your questions @BNcollege or post a comment below!
Betsy A. Hays, APR, Fellow PRSA, is an author, keynote speaker, and workshop presenter whose topics include personal and professional success, public relations excellence, effective communication, and landing your dream career.
She is also the lead Public Relations Professor for the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at California State University, Fresno — a post she has held since 1999. Betsy is the faculty adviser for the Public Relations Student Society of America and Fresno State’s student-run PR firm, Talk. Active in the PR world’s premiere professional organization (Public Relations Society of America) since 1998, she is currently the Chair of the North Pacific District. You can reach Betsy at www.BetsyHaysPR.com or @BetsyHays (Twitter).
Tori Terhune is an award-winning author, speaker, coach and public relations and social media professional. She is CEO of Brand Chicks (www.BrandChicks.com), an online branding consulting firm, and her experience varies from career coaching for recent college graduates to website and social media search engine optimization practices for companies. She is a popular speaker to college groups and women’s conferences, as well as serving as a guest lecturer for many college courses over the last five years. She was recognized as the Outstanding PR Graduate by Fresno State in 2009 and as Rookie of the Year by PRSA Central California in 2008. You can reach Tori on Twitter @ToriRTerhune.
Tori and Betsy’s first book, “Land Your Dream Career: 11 Steps to Take in College,” (http://bit.ly/1Ify41R) was listed in the American Library Association’s Bests of 2013. The paperback version, “Land Your Dream Career in College: The Complete Guide to Success,” (http://bit.ly/1bwpLld) was released this month. Their second book, “Life After College: 10 Steps to Build A Life You Love” (http://bit.ly/1DDrvAJ) was published in May 2014.