There are a variety of reasons to pursue graduate school; it offers new challenges, and opportunity to focus on a specific area of study and the chance to develop your career. To avoid false starts, it is important to look to the horizon and envision your ultimate goals. Consider how the degree or credential will help you attain your long term goals. Student life can become safe and familiar. Graduation students might be tempted to apply for graduate school without contemplating their true interests. It can be comforting to stay in the safe haven of an ivory tower and avoid tipping your toes in the rushing waters of the job search process.
Before you apply to graduate school, consider carefully which direction you want to take. Determine what course will enhance your skills and fits your interests, the values that you have cultivated over the years and your natural talents and personality. Be sure before you open a book that the subject matter captures your passion and possible career direction. Talk with faculty, deans and CDO staff and above all, trust your own wisdom to guide you on the right path.
Once you are confident that graduate training is the right way to go, keep in mind that timing is of the essence. Identify the best time to seek that degree. For example if you want to earn an M.S.W., you might be better off pursuing related work experience a few years before beginning your studies. Experience working with a population in need will increase your chances of admission to a program, enhance your ability to contribute and learn in the classroom, and make you a more attractive candidate to employers once you complete the degree.
However, doctoral programs in science, humanities and social science require 4-7 years of study and while work experience is always valuable it may not be necessary if you are sure of your career goals.
Another consideration is whether you are even ready for the intensity of the graduate school experience. If the thought of more tests, papers and less free time is unappealing at the present time, don't hesitate to take a year off. Often some time to breathe and explore who you are away from the academic setting may provide insight into your future goals and help you re fuel so that you are more energized and enthusiastic about the graduate school experience.
If your undergraduate grades are marginal, you may be able to improve your chances of acceptance to graduate school by gaining work experience and taking courses part time. Your ability to demonstrate that you are mature and capable of succeeding academically can have a definite and positive affect on a graduate admissions committee.
When you know how and where your feet will hit the pavement, you are ready for the challenge of graduate school. You will work hard but remember that graduate school has the potential to build confidence, enhance your knowledge and creates a network of faculty and students in your field.
Be sure to take advantage of the graduate school resources at the CDO and make an appointment with a CDO counselor to discuss your graduate school plans.