June brings on thoughts of graduation in a lot of people. You’re watching friends, family and loved ones achieve a dream and move onto the next portion of their life. It’s exciting and inspiring, and some people get swept up into thinking they too might like to get a higher level of education.
Starting Grad School is a life changing choice. When I began my journey in 2011, there were many considerations I took into account. I had been looking at the possibility since 2000. When I couldn’t answer the questions favorably, I did not advance on attending Graduate School. I wasn’t about to let anyone bully me into it either. What helped? Knowing what I was facing and learning what I could do about it. There are a lot of questions to be answered before making any life changing moves. This is mostly what debilitates us in completing the move.
So what are the three things you need to ask yourself Before You Start Grad School?
1. Do you really want this and need this?
A lot of rhetoric goes around media surrounding the necessity of graduate school in obtaining a job, or higher position at your current company–a promotion, maybe, elsewhere. Is all this work, years of it, necessary for what I want to do? Or, can I get by with just taking a few courses and getting certified?
The question of needing the degree should be paramount. Your investment in yourself can be costly, and turn into more of a burden than a help. The rising costs of higher education are just one aspect of this journey that will make you faint at the thought. So honestly answer the question of do you need it? If the answer is I want this degree, then that is a good enough answer. Don’t let others tell you that you need to, or that you are being foolish. This is your life, and they do not have the responsibility of feeling the consequences.
2. How am I going to pay for this? I work all week and barely make ends meet.
The reason this doesn’t come first on my list, though it’s a deciding factor that will make or break your Graduate Degree Dreams, is that unless you want to go, there’s no need to even think about it.
Now that you’ve decided you want to go, and you need this degree for whatever personal reasons you have, you have to be honest with yourself about affording the tuition. Some schools are going to be very high-priced. Online for profit schools will likely leave you with substantial financial burden. If you’re only scraping by now, things can get a lot tougher. Can you handle that stress with the long hours of work/school/life balancing that are coming?
To find out if you can afford it, don’t stop at your wallet or your savings account. Look into scholarships, grants, loans, fellowships, and other sources of aid. Are you a member of a Union or married to a member? The likelihood of a high education program presented by that union to cover tuition costs is extremely high. Almost all of them offer continuing education perks. Take advantage! Don’t be a fool. They’re paying! That’s what your dues are paid for. So take that money if you can get it.
In addition to unions offering benefits for continuing education, many employers have similar programs. Again, don’t be a fool. Let them pay for your school. In the long run, you’re hedging a bet on a promotion, you’re bettering your future, increasing your marketability and earning more for your labor. Everyone wins!
3. I Want to Go to Grad School. I Can Afford to Go. Can I Handle the Work?
That’s a tough question. We can’t really know if we can handle the work until we get into a course and do some of the work. Some ways you can assess this is to take an online skills assessment with the college you’re intending to apply to, or have applied to.
Basic skills for today’s grads are: Research skills, Basic Computing, Advanced Level Writing and Reading, and Critical Thinking Acumen.
In some cases, if you’re lagging behind on these skills, you’ll make them up as you go along. A good number of Graduate School dropouts didn’t assess their skills, or thought they had the level required for this level of study. There’s a reason that something like 20% of Americans have a graduate level degree: no time, money or their skills are lacking. Undergraduate level study is as different from Graduate School as High School was to college. But, don’t fear. You can take adult continuing education courses or job training seminars that will improve your skills.
Another way to gauge your ability to handle Graduate level work is to take the opening course at the college you’ve been accepted to. Take the course on its own. Give yourself to adapt to this with the best foot forward. I took two classes a semester, only because I am single and childless. That is a special circumstance that not many adults have. If you’re just starting out in your mid 20’s, you’re far more likely to have the time and ability to focus on a graduate degree. This doesn’t mean that an older adult cannot pursue graduate level credentials. It means that their plan is going to be different, and might take them a little longer to complete.
Regardless of these questions, wanting to achieve something is the main impetus for getting there. You will make the time, if you want to. You will find the money, if you want to. And you will succeed in the work, if you want to.
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