Is Graduate School Right for Me?

Considering Graduate School

Graduate school study involves a significant commitment of your time, money and energy, even more so in many ways than undergraduate study, but it can also yield many rewards. Pursuing graduate study is not a decision to be taken lightly; rather, it requires serious interest and engagement in the subject matter, as well as a keen focus on your professional goals. Graduate-level programs may either prepare you for entry into a given profession, as in the case of law, medicine, and social work programs, for example, or for an academic career as a scholar/researcher, in the case of Ph.D. programs. To that end, it is imperative that you devote much thought to long-term career plans before embarking upon graduate study -- it should never be merely a way to delay career planning and job seeking.

Before applying to graduate programs, you should identify your reasons for doing so through careful self-reflection. What are your motivations for entering into the application process? To begin your thinking about this, here are some points to consider:

Some good reasons to go to graduate school:

  • You are passionate about scholarly work and academic study.
  • You are certain about your career path and, after having research this field extensively, you know that an advanced degree will either be a requirement or significantly help your cause.
  • You enjoy pursuing your own research topics in a specific field independently and can envision yourself conducting such research for several years to come.
  • You have a realistic understanding of what graduate school entails, including the costs, and you have thoughtfully considered your other options.

Some less good reasons to go to graduate school:

  • The job market is weak and you have serious concerns about your job prospects.
  • You have excelled at being a student thus far and don't know what else to do.
  • You assume, without having done much investigation, that you will not find 'a good job' unless you have a graduate degree.
  • Your family, friends and/or professors think it's the right decision for you.
  • You just want to delay your entry into the workforce.

Should you decide that graduate school is in your future, remember that you don't have to go directly from UPenn. It is very common, and often beneficial, for students to take time between completing their undergraduate work and starting an advanced degree. Many graduate programs in, for example, business, public health, social work, public administration, and public policy, generally prefer to admit students who have had practical experience in the field. Regardless of your area of interest, taking a job after graduation can help you figure out what you want.

Some students worry that they might lose momentum for graduate study if they take time after graduation, but the opposite is often true. Those who have worked before graduate school routinely report that their experiences not only helped them find greater professional focus, but also made them all the more excited to do their graduate work. Work experience can be especially important for students who had academic difficulties as undergraduates, as an interesting employment history can sometimes help strengthen a graduate school application. There are plenty of options for what to do in "gap years," and what you do can often be instrumental in preparing you for graduate or professional school--and can enhance your application in the process.

The bottom line is this: go to graduate or professional school when you are really ready for it -- when you have both the academic skills and the experience to make the most of it.