and even a macaroni-and-cheese budget will probably require
some supplemental funding from student loans, personal savings, a gainfully employed spouse, or a family benefactor.
Some graduate programs, particularly at the master’s
level, are designed for part-time students who are also holding down jobs. The drawback here is that completing these
degrees can take a very long time, and balancing the demands
of a job with even one or two classes a semester (not to mention a research project) can be exhausting. Doctoral programs
generally require you to be a full-time student, although it’s
not unheard of for doctoral students to bring in a little extra
money as tutors, bartenders, freelance photographers, or other
types of work.
Even if you’re not holding down a job while you study,
graduate studies are a major investment of time and energy.
If you have a spouse and children, they may begin to feel
your absence acutely as you get deeper into your studies
and research program. Your children may be too young to
fully understand what’s going on, but getting your spouse’s
support before you begin is critical to your success. This is
especially true if your family must move with you to the town
where your university is.
Are you planning to enter a field where the jobs are concentrated in one geographical area? If so, are you (and your family) willing to live where the jobs are? Many chemical manufacturing companies are located on the Gulf Coast. Many pharmaceutical companies are located in the Northeast. Software
developers gravitate toward Silicon Valley. Academic positions
usually require you to live in the town where the college or
university is located. Although you can find positions in other
locations, you are more likely to be able to advance and switch
companies (after a job loss or otherwise) if you live in an area
where several companies in your field are located.
If you will be leaving a full-time job to return to school,
develop a budget that reflects your grad-school income level.
Think through the implications of being out of the workforce
for several years — will the advance in career satisfaction and
job status after you graduate be enough to compensate for
the loss of income and advancement while you’re in school?
Of course, no one can know for certain what the future holds,
but it’s worth giving it some thought.
Focus, with flexibility
“I’m only 19. How can I pick something that I can do for the
rest of my life?” The short answer is, you probably won’t be
doing any one specific thing for the rest of your life. School
should equip you with a set of basic abilities, like identifying
interesting problems to work on or designing experiments to
tackle specific questions. As you progress through your career,
you will be adding other skills and abilities and discovering
new areas that interest you.
You can’t know everything going in, but it helps to have a
general sense of direction. Will you be training for a specific
industry sector or career path? Are you interested in a specific
field of research? Are you more interested in generating new
knowledge, or applying existing knowledge? Focusing on one
specific direction will help you choose the best graduate program for you, and it will help you stay on course to finish your
degree. At the same time, remember that you’re picking this
one area as a way of focusing in, not shackling yourself permanently to one possibility.
Some graduate programs focus on preparing students for
jobs in specific industry sectors. More commonly, graduate
students focus on research projects in a very specialized area,
becoming world experts in their own particular niches. Success in the larger career world requires choosing a graduate
research area that, even though it’s narrowly focused, supports progress toward a long-term objective and picking up
experience that will be useful later on.
For example, your research project could require you to
become very proficient in the use of one or more types of
Industry sectors, educational requirements,
and typical income
• U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS
OCCUPATIONAL OUTLOOK HANDBOOK
Chemistry-specific employment and income
• ACS SALARIES & SURVEYS
Getting into graduate school and getting
• ACS COLLEGE TO CAREER NEXT STEPS
• ACS PREPARING FOR GRADUATE SCHOOL
Choosing a school, the application process, and
what to expect
• ACS GRADUATE SCHOOL REALITY CHECK
• WEBINAR SERIES, PART 1