What You Should Know About Going to Grad School

Posted by The Editors on July 19, 2012
What You Should Know About Going to Grad School

When I finally earned my bachelor’s degree, I was elated … and a little sad. After all, I loved school and learning, and I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t be in a classroom setting anymore. The thought of leaving academia behind just wasn’t working for me.

So I decided I wanted to go get my master’s degree (and possibly even my Phd).

I enrolled in a nine-month terminal master’s program, which left the door open to get a PhD if I wanted. Although I ultimately decided not to go the doctoral route, I was thrilled with the results of my master’s degree.

That said, getting my master’s wasn’t exactly easy. In the epic face-off of bachelor’s degrees vs. master’s degrees, there are definitely some huge differences. Here are some of the biggest differences I noticed that you can expect to see as you transition from an undergraduate to a graduate program.

In your bachelor’s degree program, you take a pretty wide variety of classes. Sure, by junior and senior year you’re focusing mostly on your major, but there will still be a variety of other requirements sprinkled in. It could be senior year and you’re studying history, but suddenly you find yourself in a freshmen-level statistics class in order to fill your quantitative reasoning credit before graduation.

When you get to graduate school, however, you’ll be focused solely on your discipline. Classes will be smaller, more focused, and a lot of the work will be self-motivated. Since you’ve elected to go to graduate school and focus on this one particular subject, this can be a great thing. But if you have time and your program allows for it, try to take one two classes that are slightly outside your area of expertise. You may find it enhances the perspective you bring to your final project, thesis or dissertation (if you end up going for that PhD).

Time With Professors
I went to a large, public school, so needless to say I didn’t get a ton of face time with professors unless I made it a point to chase them down. In graduate school, however, you’ll have a lot more opportunity to work with professors, pick their brain, and benefit from their knowledge. The level of research you’ll be doing doesn’t just encourage this relationship, it requires them. And as you prepare to work on your final project or thesis, you won’t just want their help, you’ll need it.

In your undergraduate program you had homework, but in graduate school you do research. There’s a big difference between the two. And let’s be honest, most undergraduates (myself included) might slack on some of the reading assignments or “miss” an occasional class or two when the weather is exceptionally nice.

This kind of wiggle room ceases to exist when you get to graduate school. The workload is more rigorous, the expectations higher, and if you slack even the slightest bit, you’ll find yourself light years behind the rest of your class. If undergraduate research and work is like playing for the varsity team, graduate school is like going to the major leagues. It’s well worth it, you just need to mentally prepare yourself to take it to the next level.

Of course this is the big one – tuition for graduate school is definitely a step up from what you paid in undergrad. But the trade off is being able to take the next step in your career, and hopefully start earning the salary that will allow you to pay off those loans.

One added bonus of graduate school is that although the tuition may be higher, there is more flexibility and opportunity to work while you finish your program. Many schools are now offering graduate programs online, and other programs offer night and weekend classes for professionals who have full-time jobs. So even though tuition is more expensive, you have the chance to actually be making money while you’re in graduate school. If you’re really lucky, you may even get your company to pay for all or part of your graduate program.

About the Author: Noël Rozny is Web Editor & Content Manager at myFootpath, a career and education resource for students of all ages.

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