Summer is basically the best time of year for so many reasons, not the least of which is the influx of highly-motivated, not just highly-motivated but dedicate-the-summer-to-research-and-learning-motivated undergraduate and high school students. Campus is full of moderately lost-looking young adults with name badges. I love it, but inevitably someone asks about whether or not they should go to grad school, and things get real.
One side note before I continue: I know dealing with graduate school admissions is basically the teeniest tip of the women in academia iceberg, but I find that these are the issues that have been coming up with people all around me over the past month. If you have something you’d really love to see covered here, drop me a line or comment.
All right, back to business. Should you go to grad school? That’s a very good question and only you really know the answer, or maybe you and someone who is very familiar with your academic history, career interests, and personality. But there are a few bits of advice that could guide your decision.
First, if you aren’t completely sure, or if you think you need a little more time, take it. I know a lot of people warn others from taking time off between undergrad and grad school because they say time off makes it harder to go back. But, here’s the thing – if you have a plan, if you spend your time off working towards your graduate school goals, either through some sort of research or through studying for the GRE or something, then you’re much more likely to follow through and come back to school. And honestly, graduate school is pretty intense. It is better to go in fresh and with your head on as right as you can get it than to charge into it out of fear.
Second, think about how you view the process of going through graduate school. Is it a means to an end, and what is that end? Is it part of your career development? Is it a way to develop a wide range of skills that can be applied to a variety of fields? Basically, it’s good to know why you’re in it. At times, graduate school will seem like an interminable hell from which there is no escape (I am employing some hyperbole here – it’s up to you to decide how much). Those are the times that it’s useful to think about exactly why you are doing this. Graduate school is self-guided, so step up, figure out your purpose, and guide yourself.
Third, only you can decide if it is worth it, but think about all aspects of graduate school, including debt, financial aid, funding, health services, fees, course work, how it affects your personal life, everything. I know there’s a lot of stuff about the beauty of academia, the life of the mind and all that jazz, but the decision to go to graduate school must be a practical one. That doesn’t mean not pursuing something you love, but rather pursuing it in such a manner that allows you to have balance in your life.
And ultimately, your choice now doesn’t have to be permanent. School will be there later, and school is something you can leave as your interests or plans change. It’s OK. So while this is a big decision, don’t let it overwhelm you. You’ll be OK.
How about you? Do you have any advice?