As the last strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” fade in the background, you step out of the facility doors and into a whirlwind of family photos, congratulations from friends, and a sense of true accomplishment. You finished your undergrad degree! 🎉🎓
Everyone looks forward to that day. Maybe it’s a couple of months to a couple of years away. But some, graduation day does not mean the end of their career as a student.
Whether you’re looking to stop after getting your Master’s or go on to get your Ph.D., picking the right school, and the right program, is vital. If everything that goes into a successful grad school experience seems overwhelming, don’t stress. We’re here to help.
What are the benefits graduate school?
First, it’s important to understand why going to grad school could be a good option for you.
- Increased likelihood of employment.
Depending on the field, many employers today may not consider a Bachelor’s degree sufficient experience. They will consider applicants with Master’s degrees, and thus a higher level of training, over those with undergraduate degrees.
Even those potential employers who may not differentiate between applicants with a Master’s degree and applicants without likely won’t pay an employee with undergraduate experience as much as they would an employee with graduate level experience.
- Increased credibility.
Especially if your chosen field deals heavily with academia even after your graduation, grad school can help you be recognized as an expert in your field.
If you did any form of undergraduate research, graduate school gives you the chance to explore your topic further and develop it into something entirely your own, in which you can be considered an expert even beyond your general field of study.
It can also increase your credibility through your attitude towards your work. Chadwick Heard, data analyst and web coordinator for Augusta University’s Graduate School, says “The growth goes beyond academic knowledge and expertise. It builds confidence, character, resiliency, intellectual curiosity, and the ability to distill your knowledge into a logical yet easily understandable argument. These skills open doors for students to be successful in their career.”
- Development of research.
Not ready to let your undergraduate research go? Going to grad school gives you the opportunity to continue in it and gives you access to resources you would not have outside of a graduate program, such as equipment and experts in the field.
- Go into the field you are truly interested in.
Sometimes, you realize too late into your undergrad that you are no longer interested in the field you chose to major in. Maybe you’ve only got one more semester before you graduate, and it just isn’t feasible to change your major, but the thought of having a job in your degree field fills you with dread.
Never fear! There is certainly no written rule that says you must go to graduate school in the same field as your undergrad, though of course, some experience in the new field would be required.
For example, maybe you majored in Chemistry and minored in English, and then decide to go to graduate school for English instead. You have the experience required in English to go into the field, even though it isn’t your degree. Don’t be afraid to switch like this if your passion truly lies elsewhere!
What are the challenges of graduate school?
For there to be a silver lining, unfortunately there also have to be a few clouds. Thankfully, these clouds are more like a light mist than a storm.
- It adds to your school time.
Many of us are just ready to leave school once we get our undergrad degree. “Never again!” we say as we wave “sayonara” to campus for the last time. Grad school adds at least two years to your academic career but does result in you gaining more applicable experience in your field.
- It can be stressful.
While some schools and programs require an undergraduate thesis, many do not. In graduate school, most programs will have you write a thesis in order to obtain your Master’s degree.
Many students hear the word “thesis” and immediately start to panic. While a thesis is always a very involved, in-depth process, and it’s not easy, what you gain as a student and what you send out into the research of your field is well worth the hard work.
- The costs.
Grad school is not cheap, and many students choose not to go based on this fact alone. However, just as in undergrad, you can apply for financial aid, scholarships, and grants to be able to proceed with this next part of your academic journey.
How do I pick a graduate program? Should I go to my alma mater or branch out?
The most important thing to stress here is do what’s right for you. This can mean academically, financially, in terms of time management, or any other factors influencing your decision.
Picking a program depends on what your end goal is. If you’re a History major with the end goal of becoming a professor, you want to find a graduate program that will assist you in achieving this, rather than one that prepares you for archaeology fieldwork. Most of the time, finding the right program is up to you and your program or lifestyle preferences.
The same applies to your school of choice. As with undergrad, it’s advisable to apply to several schools in order to have backup in case your top choice falls through. If one of these schools is your alma mater, so be it. You may find your ideal program right where you are and never have to leave.
“Do your research. Investigate a graduate program holistically. Yes, look into the program offerings, but you also need to establish contact with the university that you are interested in,” says Heard.
If you want some help deciding, consider talking to current graduate students of the programs for which you are applying. They will likely know the answers to many of your questions. For any answers they don’t know, get in touch with the faculty, especially those who you might be working with as part of your research, and start building that network early.
“Most importantly, see if you will get the level of guidance and mentorship that you need. All of these factors can influence your success in a program.”
What does the work-life balance look like?
“As a graduate student, I would say the main challenge has been finding a balance,” Heard also offers. “Finding a balance between my work, my career, family, fitness, and personal life. As a graduate student…you learn how to find a balance and succeed.”
For the students who do choose to go to grad school, it is often the transition to learning how to balance work life with social life.
If you have a job during grad school (many do), learning how to effectively manage your time with assignments, work, and social life is extremely important, and is a skill that will carry over when you graduate and join the workforce.
Some tips to get you started on developing a healthy work-life balance in grad school are:
- Set yourself smaller goals to reach the overall goal, and reward yourself with short breaks.
- Keep in mind that you can say ‘No.’ Prioritize and don’t overcommit yourself.
- Know when you’re most productive, and plan your work times then whenever you can—then stick to it.
- Don’t forget to have a social life. This is vital to your mental health.
- Remember to sleep. Getting sleep will improve your mental state and your quality of work in the long run.
Graduate school, though not for everyone, is a rewarding experience for those who choose to attend it. Augusta University offers over 45 graduate programs for various disciplines, with small class sizes and knowledgeable professors.
Of the graduate program at Augusta University, Heard says “One of the greatest attributes of a graduate education at Augusta University is fully invested faculty and mentors. Our faculty are fully invested in the success of their students. Our faculty love seeing their students be successful. The faculty here are excellent about opening up opportunities for students and being their biggest advocates. This is unique. You don’t get this at every university.”