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.