Is Grad School For You? Here’s How To Find Out!

Information for this blog post was provided by Nicholas Fong. Nicholas is a fourth year student at the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in Civil Engineering.

While at Cal, Nick is a member of the University of California, Berkeley Marching Band, Campus Ambassador, and Design Build and Construction Solution Team.

After graduation, he plans on working as a project engineer at Turner Construction.

Graduate school is a far off notion that most students are barely thinking about at this point in their lives. Regardless of whether or not you have already been accepted to an undergraduate program or are doing research on college for the first time, a little bit of forward planning can never hurt. The goal here is to provide the basic information necessary in case you decide graduate school is your ultimate destination following your undergraduate career.

What is graduate school?

Graduate school is a secondary level of education that many students will opt to take on upon the completion of an undergraduate degree. The actual difference between a college and a university is that the title “university” designates that a particular school has a graduate program. There are many forms of graduate degrees in more fields than may even be offered during your college years. These include, but are not limited to Master of Arts, Master of Science, Master of Engineering, and Master of Business Administration. There are also Doctorate programs, which entail a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) as well as Doctor of Medicine. These latter degrees generally require many more years of schooling, but allow for greater specialization on top of many of the other Master’s programs.

What are the benefits of graduate school?

Graduate school allows students to delve even further into their fields of study from their undergraduate years. Students who go on to complete these programs are often recognized for further specialization in an area than their peers who enter the work force. Many professions, such as physicians and lawyers, actually require a graduate degree to practice their trade. There are also many professions where a graduate degree constitutes an increase in base salary. Finally, in a tough economy like the world is facing now, continuing on with graduate education allows a student to wait out part of a recession while also adding on additional levels of education which may help with finding a job later on.

What are the downsides to graduate school?

Like many students face as undergraduates, graduate school costs money and is not cheap. Students who had to take out loans may be hesitant to take on further debt to pay for anywhere from one to four or more years for education. (The draw to Ph.D’s is often that fellowships reserved specifically for Ph.D students can nearly cover the entire cost of tuition, room and board for the duration of your education.) Furthermore, a graduate degree is never a guarantee of a higher salary as opposed to a Bachelor’s and thus, one should take the time to do the research into what the benefits of a Master’s in a particular field are.

Who should apply for graduate school?

Graduate school requires an even more defined focus on what you would like to accomplish during your career than any other level of education. If you feel that your undergraduate years have provided you with a direction and a passion in a field that drive a thirst for knowledge, then graduate school may pique your interests even more to the point of expertise. However, graduate school should not be taken lightly. You shouldn’t elect for further education as a time filler because you do not know what you want to do. Working in industry may often be able to provide this aforementioned direction while also paying you so it might be the better choice. Many college professors have made this claim saying that working before graduate school gives more meaning to further studies. Nevertheless, this is a personal decision that only you can make.

What do you need to apply to graduate school?

In order to apply to graduate school, students usually need one of a variety of standardized tests. The most common is called the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Other common tests are the Medial College Admissions Test (MCAT) for medical school, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) for business school, and the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) for law school. For nearly all graduate programs, students will have had to earned an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university and some graduate programs, such as various engineering schools, will require a Bachelor’s Degree in a specific field. Different schools will have different protocol and standards in terms of undergraduate performance, but they are somewhat similar to undergraduate programs in terms of other requirements, i.e. letters of recommendation, minimum G.P.A., etc. However, a passion for an area of study and a well thought out plan of how one plans to use the degree should never be underestimated.

When should you apply for graduate school?

There is no right answer to this question. This largely depends on what undergraduate degree a student obtains and what his or her career plans at the time entail. To reiterate, some students have a strong passion or direction that they know they would like to pursue and thus, graduate school immediately following undergraduate education may be the right direction. On the other hand, work experience might help to make up for a lower G.P.A. or help provide some insight as to what a student should pursue in graduate school.

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Clara Ma

Clara Ma

Clara is a third year student attending the University of California, Berkeley currently pursuing a double major in Political Science and Media Studies. Her school activities include being a captain on the Cal Dance Team, being a Campus Ambassador, as well as being part of THRIVE Dance Company. She enjoys living vicariously through others on the Internet, keeping up with pop culture on Tumblr, and watching a copious number of television shows (namely Sherlock and How I Met Your Mother).