Grad School: When is the Right Time to Go?

March 21, 2014
Sergio Frisoli

Photo Credit: martins.nunomiguel via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: martins.nunomiguel via Compfight cc

When is the right time to go to grad school?

This is an important question that prospective graduate students like yourselves should consider, for many reasons. I suspect that many of you view going to grad school as a given, a step that you will inevitably take, often immediately after completing your undergrad degrees. There is the belief (not entirely unfounded) that to advance in one’s career, one must possess an advanced degree. I found myself being subjected to these pressures as I approached the end of college; family members and friends alike suggested that I go to law school or business school or grad school. When I replied, “Why should I go to law school or business school if I’m not really interested in a law or business career?”, the answer I received was never really convincing enough. Typical responses were, “Well, it’ll come in handy in the future,” or, “Don’t worry about that for now—just get started, and you’ll figure it out.” Really!? Rushing into applying to grad school has several potential negative consequences.

  • First and foremost, going to grad school requires a big commitment of time, money, and effort. It’s important to be sure that you’re truly passionate and have long-term interest in the field of study you’re about to embark upon. Otherwise, you may find yourself two or three years later with a piece of paper affirming you’re an expert in public health or English or whatever, but with a significant amount of debt and unsure of what direction to take your career in next.
  • Secondly, your chances of getting into grad school, especially your top choice, are much higher if you explain to admissions committees, in a convincing fashion, why you are interested in pursuing an advanced degree in that particular field. Expressing a general interest in the subject matter, or a vague passion for a particular line of work, doesn’t really cut it. You should be able to state in your application, and in an interview, exactly why this is the right time for you to go to grad school, and what goals you hope the degree will help you accomplish. The more specific you can be, the better.
  • Finally, rushing into applying to grad school is not a good idea because you will get far more out of your graduate program if you enter the program with some clear goals than you will if you do so with only a vague notion of why you’re even there. More so than in undergrad, grad schools leave it up to you to carve out your course of study. You are encouraged and expected to pursue those courses and projects that most interest you. If you have clear goals and interests, you will take control of your graduate education and reap far more from it than you would if your goals are unclear or absent altogether.

So, before rushing into the grad school application process, be sure to ask yourself some deep, probing questions to ascertain whether it’s really time to apply:

  1. First, ask yourself whether grad school is right for you in the first place. Are you particularly passionate about certain topics or issues, and could you see yourself working on those topics or issues long-term? Or for the more pragmatic, are there certain career goals or positions that you aspire to and that require an advanced degree to achieve?
  2. Second, ask yourself whether now is the right time to apply. You may be sure want to go to graduate school, and you may know exactly what program to apply to, but you still may not be ready to get the most out of grad school. You may need more experience in the field, or a chance to bolster your resume, before you begin.

An interesting litmus test to determine your readiness to apply to grad school is how easily you’re able to complete your application. If you find that the application flows easily and naturally, that you’re able to explain your goals and aspirations clearly and specifically in your personal statement, that’s a good sign you’re ready to apply. But if filling out the application is like pulling teeth, and you have to keep revising and revisiting your personal statement, that could be a warning flag that now might not be the right time.

Questions? Thoughts? Talk to me in the comments!

Sergio Frisoli Sergio earned his Master’s degree in Private School Leadership from Teacher’s College at Columbia University and his Bachelor’s degree in Public and International Affairs from Princeton University.

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