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Is Graduate School for You?

A graduate student’s advice on figuring out whether continuing education is for you and ways to go about researching career paths and graduate schools

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Graduate school is typically associated with benefits such as better-paying jobs, opportunities for career advancement, and a great chance to dive deeper into your fields of interest and hone your skills. However, how do you know whether it is right for you?

In February, Texas Career Engagement hosted the first part of a three-part workshop series focused on exposing students to the process of applying for graduate school. This session featured Cassandra Gearhart, a UT Austin doctoral student in counseling psychology. As a first-generation graduate student and practicum trainee at Texas Career Engagement, Gearhart went over the common reasons for pursuing graduate education, methods for identifying potential programs and information about valuable resources to help guide the process. Near the end of the session, participants had the opportunity to ask questions and voice their thoughts.

In response to commonly asked questions, curiosities and the event overall, Gearhart offers a few helpful tips here for those considering graduate school:

Know Your Why.

First and foremost, ask yourself: Where do you see yourself in the future? What aligns with your interests and goals? Is there a particular industry you want to learn more about or delve deeper into? Perhaps graduate school is the gateway to your desired career, and a strong direct reason for pursuing it is much better than ambiguity.

In pondering the future, take time to also evaluate your current opportunities. Question honestly whether grad school will offer you more flexibility in terms of your professional path than you have now. Ask yourself: Will it make you a more competitive job candidate? Provide more job stability and security? Advance your skill set?

Whether you are considering continuing education for a higher starting salary or you want to develop specialized knowledge in a field you care deeply about, or even seek to build relationships with like-minded individuals in a completely new field of interest, it is always important to have your reason for “Why graduate school?” and — equally as important — “Why now?”

Evaluate not just the pros but also the cons of committing to graduate school.

Pursuing graduate school is a big decision that will entail sacrificing a great deal of time and effort in research and applications. If graduate school provides the benefits that you are looking for and the timing is right for you, consider possible disadvantages as well. Grad school is quite different from undergrad. Can you keep up with the pressure? How will graduate school affect your personal relationships? Your social life? Your work and hobbies?

Cost is also an important consideration. While having an advanced degree can lead to securing a higher salary in some industries, the direct and indirect costs of graduate school can be a disadvantage as well. When thinking about graduate school, consider the cost of the program, including any opportunities for full or partial funding; the indirect costs, such as moving fees, the cost of living and the loss of income if you are unable to work during the program; and the potential for increased student loan debt if you have unsubsidized undergraduate loans and won’t be making payments during graduate school.

These are a few among many personal factors to consider before you dive right in. Preparation is key, and always stay informed to know what you are getting into.

Hear from graduate students themselves.

Though you can attend informational sessions held by certain schools and programs, for the most realistic perspectives, try to speak with those attending or those who have attended graduate school, especially in your fields or programs of interest. In this way, you will receive relevant advice on the overall process from a student perspective and see what day-to-day life looks like for a typical graduate student. Try to seek out varied viewpoints, and keep in mind that everyone’s experience is different. Yours will be unique to you.

Don’t feel rushed.

Lastly, remember graduate school will always be an open option, so no matter where you are in your schooling or career, don’t rush into a decision without being as well informed as possible. In researching schools and programs of interest, make sure to look into factors such as program mission and values, accreditation and credentials, support, courses and duration, location, competitiveness and faculty, among others.

You can watch full recordings of Texas Career Engagement’s three-part Graduate School Workshop Series.

Texas Career Engagement encourages students to check out its varied resources supporting career success. Find internships and job postings, schedule one-on-one career appointments, get your resume or cover letter reviewed, or find other tips and tricks at careerengagement.utexas.edu.

The University of Texas at Austin offers graduate programs in fields of study ranging from architecture to social work. View UT Austin graduate degree programs and contacts.