Should you go to grad or professional school?
Choosing to continue your education beyond the bachelor's degree is a big investment of time and financial commitment for you. To make the best decision for yourself, seek full information from multiple sources. In Career and Professional Development, we provide information sources and advising to support you in this decision-making process.
Questions to ask yourself
- Graduate and professional school programs are often focused explorations of specific topics that require advanced reading comprehension, study, and writing skills. Without strong intrinsic motivation or passion to learn more about the content of your chosen program, the challenging nature of graduate or professional programs could become overwhelming.
- Before you head to graduate or professional school, research the occupation you want to enter when you complete your education. If you don't know what occupation interests you, that might be a red flag to put graduate or professional school on hold.
- Make sure you know:
- Educational requirements to enter the line of work
- Additional requirements — certification, licensure, etc.
- Competitiveness of the job market
- Settings in which people do the job
- Characteristics of people who are successful in the work
- Research sources: career research and job market information resources.
- After this, if your career goals are still vague, make an appointment with a career advisor in Career and Professional Development to get some help figuring out where you are headed. A conversation will help determine what might help you make progress.
- Graduate or professional degrees can be important credentials in some fields; it can also be costly in terms of time and finances. And for some fields, a graduate degree without other work experience might put a job seeker at a disadvantage compared to other candidates with more work experience. Determine whether the jobs you want require a graduate or professional degree before skipping the job search. It's possible there are job opportunities available with your bachelor's degree, that have not come to your awareness. If you’re unsure about opportunities available to you, or unsure about the best path to your goals, meet with a career advisor to get assistance.
- What are the trends in the field that interests you?
- You can use LinkedIn to see the career trajectories of alumni from your chosen program. You can search by the university, view "alumni," then "what they studied" to find the program that interests you; you can narrow your search by "where they live," and/or "where they work," and/or "what they do; then look at individual profiles to see individual career paths. You might want to reach out to connect to individuals to seek advice.
- This is an important topic to raise with graduate program directors and other faculty. They will know the trends for their program and field; this might be discussed on their graduate program website.
- If most people in your grad program have experience after the undergrad degree, and you don't, that could potentially make you less competitive when seeking employment based on your grad degree.
- Familiarize yourself with the entry requirements for the graduate programs that interest you. Do your credentials put you in the running? If not, what can you do to become competitive? For example, consider if volunteer work, internships, employment, field study, undergraduate research, computer or foreign language skills, specific undergraduate or graduate courses, raising your gpa, etc., would make you more competitive. If you don't know, do more research on graduate programs that interest you: review websites, review the application process, and consider approaching alumni. If you still have questions, you can contact the schools you'd like to attend and ask to meet with an advisor for the graduate program, the program director, and/or faculty whose research areas are of interest to you.
Fellowships, scholarships, and assistantships:
- These can be a significant source of support for the costs of a graduate program.
- Fellowships are often merit-based, intensive scholarship programs designed to give a student extracurricular hands-on experience or mentorship while pursuing graduate-level coursework. There will often be additional documentation or personal statements required for fellowship acceptance.
- Scholarships, given on a need or merit basis, can help cover costs of tuition or housing, depending on how high the award is.
- The Virginia Tech Graduate School provides information on fellowships and scholarships; some specific to Virginia Tech, and some not limited to VT graduate students.
- U.S. News provides a searchable database of over 3,000 scholarships to support graduate study.
- Graduate assistantships (also called G.A. positions) are essentially part-time jobs that you hold while you are a full-time graduate student; the job is typically related to your field of study and/or career interest. These are sometimes more specifically labelled as graduate teaching assistants (G.T.A.) or graduate research assistantships (G.R.A.). In some graduate programs, prospective graduate students are automatically considered for assistantships as part of the application for admission to the graduate program. For some graduate programs, applicants might need to actively apply and submit additional materials. As you consider graduate programs, look for information on the policies of the programs.
- Assistantships typically allow students to work on-campus for one of your professors, for your academic department, or for another university office; you typically earn a set wage (also called a stipend) while gaining experience. Assistantships might also include tuition remission or other tuition support in addition to the living stipend.
Funding from your employer:
- In some fields, employers might offer employees the benefit of partial or full funding toward a graduate degree. That could come in various forms, such as tuition payment, or tuition reimbursement after completion of coursework. This form of funding usually entails being a full-time employee and a part-time graduate student; but other options could be possible, depending on the employer. Many employers who offer this employee benefit will give information on their website; so investigate your current or prospective employer.
- Some states offer tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement for employees who work for offices and agencies of the state.
- An article in kiiky.com reports on 13 employers that pay for MBA or graq school programs.
- A graduate degree might make a candidate more marketable, depending on the field, the degree level, and years of work experience. Marketability can be influenced by whether the degree is necessary for the specific job, and other attributes and skills the candidate brings to the table.
Again, as you consider these questions and work through your decision-making process, there are resources to help you! Make an appointment with a career advisor in Career and Professional Development. A variety of people can potentially help you with perspective, advice and information: faculty members in your undergraduate area of study; staff mentors in your department; VT alumni from your current program; past work supervisors; graduate program directors; academic advisors; faculty members in potential graduate or professional programs. Ultimately your goal is to determine whether a graduate program is a match for you!