7 Questions to Ask if You Are Thinking of Grad School

7 Questions to Ask if You Are Thinking of Grad School

The decision to attend graduate school is a big step that requires careful thought. Pursuing an advanced degree can be a life-changing experience, so it is essential to thoroughly assess whether it aligns with your personal and professional goals. To help you make an informed choice, here are seven crucial questions to ask yourself when contemplating graduate school.

1. What are your career goals?

Understanding the link between your career aspirations and the potential benefits of graduate school is a key factor in making an informed decision. Before enrolling in a graduate program, take the time to define your long-term career goals. Determine whether the profession you envision requires an advanced degree for advancement or specialization. Some career paths, such as becoming a medical doctor, lawyer, researcher, or university professor, typically require graduate studies. Other fields may offer alternative paths for career growth.

Assessing the specific skills, knowledge, and expertise you hope to acquire through graduate school will help you identify the right program. Consider how these new capabilities align with your career plans and whether they will significantly enhance your professional prospects. Research the curriculum of the graduate programs you are interested in and evaluate whether they cover the areas you want to specialize in. Get started by exploring the details and hearing from current and past participants of the Graduate Programs at Fairfield University to learn about the 50 programs and certificates across Fairfield’s five schools.

2. Can you afford graduate school?

Graduate education often requires a significant financial investment. Tuition fees, living expenses, and potential loss of income during your studies are all factors to consider. Evaluate your current financial situation and explore scholarship, grant, and assistantship opportunities that could help you balance your financial books as you hit the books for your advanced degree.

If taking on substantial student loans is inevitable, assess whether the potential long-term benefits outweigh any potential debt. Remember that your financial situation can impact not only your present but also your future choices, so carefully weigh the cost against the potential return on investment. Keep in mind that statistically, workers with a graduate degree earn more and experience lower unemployment rates than those with an undergraduate degree. The potential for greater wealth and knowledge can make that MA, MBA, or MS credential worth every penny.

3. Are there alternative pathways to achieve your goals?

Graduate school might seem like the traditional route, but there could be alternative (or additional) ways to gain the skills and knowledge you need. If you’re not ready to go all-in on grad school just yet, consider taking an online course or two, joining professional associations, and finding a mentor in your field. Researching the successful career trajectories of professionals in your desired field can enlighten you about their educational backgrounds and help you identify diverse paths to success. Also, look into certifications, professional development programs, internships, and industry-specific training. Many schools even offer graduate certificates that can seamlessly ladder up to a master's degree because your credits will count towards a master’s, making the educational journey both flexible and accessible. In some cases, gaining practical work experience in your desired field can be a valuable step before deciding on additional years in academia. If you are entrepreneurial with the ultimate goal of starting your own business, programs such as Fairfield University’s MS in Management are a great option.

Ultimately, success is not limited to any one path. Combining various approaches, adapting to new challenges, and continually learning and growing can lead to a fulfilling and prosperous career.

4. How will graduate school impact your personal life?

Pursuing a graduate degree takes time and energy, as do most pursuits that are worthwhile. It is crucial to consider how that dedication will affect your personal life and relationships. Are you up for the intellectual and emotional challenge and the shift that graduate studies may have on your work-life balance and social commitments?

Having a strong support system in place with the backing of family, friends, or mentors can make a significant difference during this journey. Take a quick poll to see if your support team is on your side. Additionally, consider your personal readiness for a demanding academic pursuit and the sacrifices you may need to make along the way. A reliable coffee maker or tea kettle will help too!

5. What do current graduates say about their experiences?

Reach out to alumni and current students of the graduate programs you are considering. Alumni can provide valuable insights into how their graduate education impacted their careers and personal growth. Current students can offer a glimpse into the day-to-day experiences and challenges of the program. Networking with professionals in your desired field will help you gain a more realistic impression of what’s ahead.

Listening to firsthand experiences will also help you assess whether the program aligns with your expectations and goals. Look for feedback on the quality of faculty, resources, job placement, and overall satisfaction with the program and the value of a graduate degree in general. A good question to ask is grad-school veterans is, “Knowing what you know now, would you do it all over again?”

Many schools assemble a team of faculty, financial aid advisors, and alumni for admissions fairs, open houses, and virtual information sessions where you can ask questions one-on-one about specific programs. Fairfield University will even waive your graduate school application fee if you attend one of their graduate information sessions.

6. How will a graduate degree enhance your network and professional connections?

Graduate schools can be the perfect entryway to valuable networking opportunities. The potential connections you can make with professors, peers, and industry professionals during your studies is hard to match outside of an academic setting. You can often land on-the-job experiences, such as nursing clinicals, education work in an actual school classroom, or business internships that are only offered to those in a specific program. A strong network can also lead to collaborations, job offers, and other opportunities beyond graduation. Investigate the alumni network of the programs you're considering, as well as any networking events or internships facilitated by the institution. Building meaningful relationships during your time in graduate school can significantly impact your future career.

7. What is the current state of your field and its future outlook?

Research your desired field to understand its current trends, advancements, challenges, and whether pursuing a graduate degree aligns with the demand for professionals in your area of interest. Certain fields might be rapidly evolving, creating a need for specialized skills that a graduate program can provide. Demand for biomedical engineers, for example, is expected to increase 10 percent in the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Conversely, some industries may be experiencing a decline in demand for advanced degrees. By staying informed about the job market and industry outlook, you can make an educated decision about the relevance and potential return on investment of a graduate degree.

The benefits of a graduate degree can transcend its field-specific purpose, however. Consider that graduates from Fairfield University’s advanced degree and graduate certificate programs reported an average improvement rate of 94% in their ability to analyze and synthesize information, appreciate different points of view, communicate clearly and coherently, and incorporate models, theories and modes of thinking from multiple disciplines when solving problems. The enhanced skills gained from graduate study will most likely benefit you both personally and professionally no matter what line of work you end up pursuing.

By reflecting on these seven questions, you can gain a more comprehensive understanding of how graduate school fits into your overall career path and personal growth plans. Armed with this knowledge, you'll be better equipped to make an informed and confident decision about enrolling in a graduate education.



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