The Choice to Pursue a Graduate Degree: Q&A with a Student

Q&A for deciding whether to pursue a graduate degree

Millions of students go to college every year and a good handful of them will go on to pursue a graduate degree of some sort. Although there are tons of resources regarding financial aid, what schools offer which programs, and how long the degree takes, you often have to look at personal blogs or talk to actual students in-person to get their personal take on the graduate student experience.

Today, I wanted to post a Q&A with a graduate student about those general questions you have regarding pursuing an education past your bachelor’s degree. Keep in mind that these opinions are strictly from the graduate student, but hopefully you will be able to get a feel for how different people view the process.

Q&A with a Graduate Student: The Decision to Pursue a Graduate Degree

Q: Did you always know that you wanted to pursue a graduate degree?

A: Not at all! I actually thought I would only finish my bachelor’s degree and that would be it. I was so exhausted after finishing up the first four years of college and I didn’t think I would be able to handle two more years of it, so I went straight to the workforce after getting my degree. Little did I know that I would change my mind not even two years down the road.

Q: What made you ultimately decide to get a master’s degree?

A: I would say a lot of factors played into my decision, but one of the main reasons I decided to get my master’s degree is because I wanted more career opportunities. I also had a desire to keep learning about my field and to become more of an expert on all the different entities of it.

On a more personal level, I just had this inner desire to challenge myself and to prove that I could do it. No one in my family ever even tried to get a graduate degree, so this was a big deal.

Q&A About the Graduate School Decision and Application Process

Q: What are some of the main things you looked for in a graduate school?

A: The main thing I looked for was a program that focused on my interests and had a lot of courses that were going to help me reach my goals. I also took into account the flexibility of the course schedules. I’m one of those people that needed to work full-time to pay bills and everything, so I needed a graduate program that was going to allow me to do that.

Thankfully, there are tons of schools that have evening, weekend, and online programs now, so getting a master’s degree isn’t as inaccessible as it used to be. In addition to these things, I also looked at accreditation, program cost, student reviews, and professors.

Q: What did you think of the graduate school application process?

A: Honestly, mine wasn’t bad at all, but I know that the graduate school application process varies greatly from program to program. While most schools require the GRE, some do not. Other programs may have specific internship requirements whereas others are more flexible or don’t have the requirement at all.

I think that it’s really important for students to narrow down their choices and to do their research. It may help to create a pros and cons list for each program or to write out your wants and needs ahead of time so that you don’t sacrifice your must-haves. Some students may find that they will need to get several recommendations and gather other necessary information, so that should be taken into account.

One last important note: Students wishing to pursue a graduate degree should know how to write well. I was required to submit a personal statement and I know that every school I looked at required some sort of written work with the application.

Q&A with a Graduate Student: Adjusting from an Undergraduate Program

Q: Do you find that the workload for your graduate program is tougher than your undergraduate?

A: Absolutely, but I would say a lot of that is because of the writing. Rather than simply taking tests or reading material, I’m having to read material, apply it to numerous concepts, and then critically analyze it in papers every week. And I literally mean every week. I have written more papers than I can count through my master’s degree program, but they have really helped me to understand the concepts and material more.

Q: What are some of your tips for adjusting to the level of work that is required?

A: Time management and being organized are crucial for staying on top of assignments and not feeling completely overwhelmed (which still may happen, but that’s just school for you). I have a planner that helps me keep track of everything, including due dates for all assignments.

Another tip I would give that a lot of students don’t take advantage of is talking to the professor for each class. I have found that whenever I need clarification on something, my professors are always willing to help. Now, not only do I have professors who I know I can count on, but I also have connections that I can use later on in life because I took the time to network with them a bit and show them that I really want to do well in the course and master the material.

Q&A: Final Thoughts

Q: If you could do it all over again, would you choose to pursue a graduate degree?

A: Most definitely. The process has been extremely tiring since I’m working full-time and going to school full-time (only for a few more weeks though!), but it has been beyond worth it. I feel like I have gained so much knowledge throughout my classes and I’ve also become more confident in my career. I feel like I have a lot more opportunities now because I invested in my future.

Ultimately, every student has to individually decide whether pursuing a graduate degree is a good option or not. I would say to take the time to evaluate everything, make sure you fully understand every program you are looking at, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. At the end of the day, you may not feel like you are completely ready to take the plunge, but that’s the beauty of just jumping in sometimes and seeing how strong and capable you truly are.

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  • LIsa
    February 26, 2015 at 11:19 am

    I never imagined I’d go get a graduate degree until I finished undergrad and started working. I’d thought about it but was too nervous to apply. Once I did it was th best decision I ever made. I didn’t go to grad school to find a husband, but that’s how it ended haha. I’m actually looking at doing another grad program to finish my teaching certificate now. This time I’m a lot smarter about financial aid and loans though…were paying for it in cash.

  • Emily Ardoin
    February 26, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    I had a very similar experience with grad school! I worked for a year, then went back to school (although for an MBA, which was pretty unrelated to my English Education undergrad). The difference between undergrad and grad school is HUGE. The expectations are so much higher, and the people you’re in classes with are so much more motivated. It really ups the learning a lot to just be in groups with such intelligent, motivated people. I loved grad school.

    • Tori
      February 26, 2015 at 2:50 pm

      I would agree that there is a huge difference between the two. It’s a whole different ball game in grad school!

  • cat @ Pocketful Of Posies
    February 26, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    Very inspiring article! I may have to look at going back to school!

  • Amanda - Polish & Plates
    February 26, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    I personally have no interest in a graduate degree. A BS was enough school for me. As a 30-something I would advise students to weigh the cost of the degree vs the salary of a job in such profession. I know a lot of friends to spent a lot of money on a graduate degree that went to waste.

    • Tori
      February 26, 2015 at 4:27 pm

      Good point, Amanda. I definitely think the financial aspect of everything should be considered.

  • Sagan
    February 26, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    So interesting to hear this perspective! Mr. Science is reaching the very end of his Masters and the workload is certainly very heavy, but he’s getting tons out of it. I don’t regret that I stopped after getting my undergrad, but it’s great how many people get so many benefits from doing a second degree!

    • Tori
      February 26, 2015 at 4:27 pm

      I think that a lot of fields don’t necessarily need you to get a master’s to move forward, but I also do think there are growing number that see a graduate degree as attractive. I guess it just depends on your work and what you’re comfortable with as well! What works for one may not work for another which is why it’s so important to evaluate everything before diving in.

  • Christine Gallagher
    February 26, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    I am finishing up my Bachelors degree and trying to decide if i want to continue my education and the financial aspect will play a huge role in my decision, thanks for sharing

  • Nina
    February 26, 2015 at 6:46 pm

    Great tips! I especially like the one about making a point to talk to your professors for each class. I wish I had taken advantage of that more as an undergrad.

  • Jamie
    February 26, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    I have a bachelor’s and am an RN. I know that I would have more options with a masters degree…but I am just not interested in getting it. My goal is to be a full-time blogger one of these days and not even work a “real” job! 🙂 Is there a masters for blogging? That I would be interested in!

  • Nikki @ MBAsahm
    February 26, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    Graduate school was definitely one of the best decisions I ever made, but I also believe that it might not be the best for everyone…you really have to know what you want, which can be hard. But in this day and age, you almost need graduate school just to stay competitive! I would definitely recommend it though 🙂

  • Laura
    February 27, 2015 at 9:07 am

    Forwarding this to my hubby who has been going back and forth about continuing his education! Definitely not for me 🙂

    • Tori
      February 27, 2015 at 9:14 am

      I hope your hubby finds it helpful! Grad school is definitely not for everyone.

  • Farrah
    February 28, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    These are all such great points! I definitely agree that weighing out the program cost + talking to current students would be super important (and accreditation–most definitely that one o_o)! I chose my program because it was a smaller one and because the administrative staff all seemed super helpful and receptive to student feedback–it felt like they really cared about us and really just wanted to help us to succeed, so that was definitely awesome! :]

    • Tori
      March 1, 2015 at 3:44 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing your views, Farrah. I think that having helpful and receptive staff is so important as well!