Virginia Tech™home

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. The best decisions are made with 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

Before you head to grad school, define your career goals, both long and short term. This is essential. If you have no destination, you can't effectively choose a road to get there.

Research the occupation you want to enter when you complete your education. 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.

Are your career goals still vague at this point? Then you're not ready to apply yet. 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.

Caution: Going to graduate or professional school in order to avoid the job search is not a good idea; it just delays the inevitable. If you want a job and aren't having success finding one, make an advising appointment so we can help you explore the reasons and develop new strategies. Grad school isn't a generic fix for this.

Reality: Grad or professional school is about getting a more specific focus, not about widening your options. Yes, it may open options. Be sure the options it opens are what you want.

What are the trends in the field that interests you? If most people in your grad program have experience after the undergrad degree, and you don't, that could make you less competitive when seeking employment based on your grad degree.

Again, the goal comes ahead of the decision on whether or not to pursue a graduate degree. Do your career research.

Some degrees specifically train and prepare you to teach. Some prepare you to be a practioner. Some might do both. Again, know your goal before investing energy and finances to pursue a graduate degree.

If you will be expected to do research as part of your graduate program, you should pursue undergraduate research experiences.

Know the field before you invest time and money in a graduate degree. Depending on the field, this could be through internships, field studies, undergraduate research, or other forms. Don't just rely on what you learn in the undergraduate classroom.

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 get in the running? 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. If you still have questions, you can contact the schools you'd like to attend and simply ask.

Graduate or professional school can involve going into debt, financial aid, applying for assistantships, writing proposals to get grant funding or a mixture. Have you researched this? Is the payoff worth the cost?

Graduate school is not like undergraduate school. The expectations and the workload are much higher. Do you have strong self-discipline, excellent time management skills, and can you juggle graduate school with other aspects of your life — personal and professional? The culture of graduate school can be very demanding.

  • For those considering Ph.Ds and academic careers:
    The Chronicle of Higher Education
    Explore the entire site. The Chronicle covers everything post-graduate, from general advice to articles exploring academic culture, and guides to the application process.
  • Graduate School in the Humanities
    [Chronicle.com]
    The Chronicle again, but this discussion merits specific attention. William Pannapacker, under the pen name Thomas Benton, is an associate professor of English at Hope College, in Holland, Michigan, and discusses the job market for Ph.Ds in humanities.
  • 100 Reasons Not to go to Graduate School
    Just so you know what you're getting into.
  • Graduate School is Art School
    [Chronicle.com]
    Eliza Saavedra responds to the above blog with 10 reasons to go to graduate school, and how to enjoy the time you spend pursuing your doctoral.
  • Making a Reasonable Choice
    [Chronicle.com]
    William Pannacker again, this time describing a reasonable approach to considering graduate school.

Getting a graduate degree does not guarantee you a job. The job market doesn't have feelings and it doesn't create jobs just because people happen to be trained for those jobs. Make sure there's an expected market for your skills when you finish, and that you'll be competitive in that market. Know your competition. If most people in your graduate program have work experience before graduate school, and you don't, that makes you less competitive.