Does Graduate School Make the Grade? A Three-Step Test

November 21, 2012 by CATPrep

That back-to-school feeling is in the air, but before you decide to get a graduate degree, there are several important things to consider.  Do you need it?  Do you need it now?  How will you (or someone else) pay for it?

Do you need a graduate degree at all?

Should you work your way up through the ranks, or do you need another degree?  If you want to be a doctor or lawyer, then the answer is obvious.  Of course, the answer is not always so apparent.  Do your research.  Online research is a great place to start, but there is no substitute for talking, one-on-one, with someone who is already doing what you want to do.

Use you school’s alumni network and career center.  Then, find a graduate program that interests you and contact the admissions department.  Ask for referrals to current students who are willing to speak with prospective students.

Do you need it now?

This is a very important, and very personal, question you must ask yourself before jumping into graduate school.  There is never just one path to your chosen destination.  Once you know you need that next degree, take a deep breath and think for a moment before you continue.  In fact, even if you are already in a graduate program, it is never too late to consider this question.

Consider the money, the time, and any debt you already have.  Think about where you will be in your career, and life, when the you finish the degree. If you are not sure about the degree you are considering, don’t be in such a rush.  It’s easy to feel like you need to get all this schooling over with, but slow down.  A year or two spent working in the field might teach you more.  Much more.  In any field, there are sure to be specialties you don’t know about yet and options you have not considered.  Consider finding a job that lets you get paid while you learn more about your chosen field.

How will you (or someone else) pay for it?

Ahh—now we’ve come to it.  The elephant in the room.  Extra degrees often mean you earn more at that first job, but schools usually insist on being paid while you are still a student.  Now what?

Loans work and are often the right answer.  However, take pity on the 35-year-old you will one day be, and think about it first.  Those loans may follow you for a long time.

Is there another way?  The answer, again, is face-to-face contact with people who already have your dream job.  For example, getting an MBA now will let you get a better paying job when you’re done.  However, many employers pay, or help pay, for business training and business degrees.  Get back on that alumni network.  This time, look for people who work in human resources for large companies of all kinds.  They know the programs in their own companies and can give you an idea of who gets trained for free, and why.  You may want to get that entry-level job, prove how valuable you are, and then take advantage of every corporate training program they have in-house, as well as any tuition-assistance programs you can find.  Hint:  bigger corporations have more programs.

So you have answered all three questions!  Did the graduate program you are considering make the grade?  Remember, be sure you are investing your time, talent and money in an education that will get you what you want.  Once you know you need that degree, that you need it now, and how you’re going to pay for it, you can make that investment with confidence.


CATPrep is pleased to publish this guest post by Charlotte Andrews