Should You Go to Graduate School?

Will a Master's Degree or Ph.D. Help Your Career

Woman walking up stairs to receive her Masters Degree, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
Megan Q Daniels / First Light / Getty Images

Are you thinking of going to graduate school? If you want to work in certain occupations, you won't have a choice. An advanced degree such as a master's degree or Ph.D. will be required. For example, to become an attorney, psychologist, librarian or doctor, you will need an advanced degree to get licensed. Employees who hire people in some other occupations won't even look at a candidate who doesn't have a master's or doctorate degree although one isn't technically required to do the job.

There are other careers for which you don't need a graduate degree, but you may be thinking about earning one because you believe it can help you advance in your career and make more money. Or maybe you want to go to graduate school to develop valuable skills. 

Why Go to Graduate School?: Costs vs. Benefits

Regardless of your reasons for wanting to go to graduate school, you should put a lot of thought into this decision. It is a very demanding endeavor, both emotionally and financially. Programs are quite rigorous (not to mention expensive), and you may have to give up many of your other activities, including, possibly, your job. Many students find it difficult to fit classes and schoolwork into a busy work schedule. Before making a commitment to attend grad school, make sure the benefits of earning a degree will outweigh the costs.

Deciding What to Study

Before you can decide what school to apply to, you have to choose a course of study.

Should you get an advanced degree in the same discipline in which you did your undergraduate work? That may or may not be your best choice. You might instead consider getting your master's degree or Ph.D. in a discipline that complements your bachelor's degree. For example, if you have a bachelor's degree in biochemistry you might consider earning an M.B.A.

if it will help you advance to a management position. As with any other aspect of planning your career, you should take great care in choosing the area in which you will do your graduate study.

Choosing the Right School

Once you decide what to study, you can finally choose where to go to graduate school. Select a reputable program by talking to people who work in the same field, especially those in charge of hiring. Find out which programs they most respect. Also, consider the cost and location of the school, what accreditation it has, its faculty and available research and internship opportunities. Look at the entrance requirements. Do you have to take an admissions test like the GRE or GMAT? Is the school looking for candidates with a certain undergraduate G.P.A.? Do you need an undergraduate degree in the same major to be accepted? For example, must you have undergraduate coursework in business to enter an M.B.A. program. If you do, you may have to take those courses first if your bachelor's degree is in a different subject.

Perhaps you are thinking of getting an online degree. Should you? Online education may be helpful for students who don't live near the schools they want to attend or have responsibilities that make enrolling in a traditional program difficult.

Determine whether you have the characteristics to succeed as an online student. You must be self-motivated, have excellent time management skills and be very organized. Just as you would with any graduate program, make sure the one you choose is reputable.

To begin your research about grad schools, both online and traditional ones, consult print and online directories.  They will provide basic information such as a description of the program, accreditation, tuition and contacts. You can find these resources at your local library. Professional associations' websites often have lists of programs, as do organizations that are responsible for accrediting schools. When you have compiled a list of graduate schools that offer the type of program you want, start doing more in depth research about each one.

The schools' websites usually have a wealth of information, and it is probably more current than what you will find in both online and print directories. Once you have narrowed down your list, you can contact the academic department directly to get answers to any questions you have.