Should You Go to
BY NANCY McGUIRE
You’re getting your bachelor’s sometime in the next year or two, the job market still looks bleak, and all the ads for jobs you’re interested in feature the words “Ph.D. and three years of experience.” You thought you could hang up the book bag after you got your
diploma, but now you’re wondering if that B.S. degree is going to
be enough. Should you start looking at graduate schools?
First, let’s look at some of the reasons that graduate school might
make sense. If you’ve decided that basic research or a faculty
position at a four-year college or university is in your future,
then a graduate degree — specifically, a Ph.D. from a respected
university — is pretty much a requirement. If you love to learn,
and you want to explore your field more deeply than you could
in undergraduate school, that too is a fairly strong argument for
going to graduate school. You might want to explore a master’s
program, if you’re not sure you want to go for the Ph.D. If you’re
fairly certain about the field you want to enter, and your research
shows that a graduate degree will open up specific opportunities,
that’s a good reason, too. Perhaps a Professional Science Master’s
degree or a postgraduate certificate program could work for you.
If you’re getting your bachelor’s degree from a small school in
a geographical area dominated by large, well-known universities,
getting noticed in a competitive job market could be difficult. You
could complete a graduate degree program as a way of building
up your credentials — or you could look for work in a less competitive part of the country.
If you’re looking for a place to ride out the bad job market,
or if you have no idea what you want to do, career-wise, getting
into graduate school right now could be a costly sidetrack. Signing up for an internship or taking that job in your uncle’s bakery
might be just what you need to give yourself time to gather
your thoughts and earn some money. Often, just stepping away
from the books for a while and experiencing the workaday world
is enough to start bringing your longer-term career goals into
focus— or show you what you don’t want to be doing for the rest
of your career.
Let’s say that you’ve cleared those hurdles, and grad school is
looking pretty good to you. What kinds of practical things should
you consider to make this a reality?
Preparing to take the plunge
Although graduate programs share the same campuses,
faculty members, and major fields with their undergraduate
counterparts, in many ways, you’ll be stepping into a differ-
ent world. Graduate students are older, and in many cases,
they have been out of school for a while and are returning
to academia with better-defined goals and a sharper sense
of purpose than their undergraduate counterparts. Grad stu-
dents can party, play sports, and pursue hobbies with the best
of them, but they are less likely to be in school because their
parents required it or because they have nowhere better to be.
They are more likely to be funding their own education, and
they are willing to put in the long hours and extra effort that a
graduate degree requires.
Before you sign on with a graduate program, take a careful
look at the time and money that this endeavor will require.
Grad students in engineering and the physical and life sciences
usually have access to teaching and research assistantships
that cover a significant part of tuition and living expenses.
Universities also offer student services, from walk-in clinics
to on-campus housing, at a nominal cost. On the other hand,
textbooks tend to be more expensive at the graduate level,