If You’re Considering Graduate School, Follow These 4 Steps

I never questioned if I would attend college: it was always the expectation growing up that I would go and get a four-year degree somewhere and my parents pushed me to be sure that I would be successful in college. I never really thought much beyond that though until the last couple of years. Initially I assumed I would stay in my current job until retirement, but the days of that happening seem to be something of our parents’ day and age, not ours.

So about a year ago I started considering the possibility of going back to school to get a master’s degree. I quickly found the options are nearly overwhelming; there are so many more considerations than I remember when I went to get my bachelor’s degree. The questions started piling up:

What career benefits will I have with an advanced degree?
What are the requirements to apply to the programs or schools which I am interested?
What will my life balance look like while in grad school? What parts of my life will I need to make changes so that I can be successful in grad school?
What financial obligations will I have? What financial aid is available?

Of course, like most things in the adult world, considering graduate school can be intimidating and overwhelming. There’s no good roadmaps I’ve found that everyone seems to “just do it” so easily like it’s no big deal. To me, though, everything is a big deal. I’ve finally made my plan, though. A plan of how to go about my quest for an advanced degree. Of course, like most all things I do, I’ve decided to write it down and share it with others. So if you are like me and considering graduate school, here’s my step by step advice:

Step 1: Do your research.

Knowledge is power, and when looking at graduate school, you want to be sure you are making the right choice before you invest time or resources. For me, this meant first determining what degrees will allow me to step into the career I am hoping to move into. Also, a big thing I know I want is a physical campus and classrooms, so I’ve investigated all the universities within a reasonable drive of my home to see who offers the degree(s) which I am interested in pursuing.

Step 2: Make initial contact.

Something I’ve learned by talking to sources and reading online is that it is often the department heads or department faculty who oversee selecting potential students when it comes to advanced degrees. What better way to make a first impression than to reach out to personally introduce yourself? Also, if I’m going to be spending 2-3 years in small classes with these educators, I want to be sure that I feel comfortable around them and that I feel their philosophies align with mine.

Step 3: Do all the legwork in advance.

Just like when applying to undergraduate programs, I am finding there are lots of requirements and pieces involved with the application process. It’s good to find these requirements out early to give yourself time to complete everything. You may find you need personal recommendations, transcripts from previous universities, completed exams, such as the GRE or GMAT, and possible other requirements that require time and legwork. You do not want to be scrambling at the last minute to get my GRE score or get my transcript from my undergraduate school, so make a timeline and stick to it.

Step 4: Apply early to keep the stress level low.

I would not want to be that person, rushing to get something in by the deadline and praying it gets received and not lost in the shuffle, so for me applying early is key. I am also finding that many programs offer scholarships or graduate assistantships to students on a first come, first serve basis. Some even have a priority deadline for consideration for financial aid. I would love to get some money thrown my way because, let’s be real: grad school is expensive.

I still have some steps to complete in the process and I’m still very nervous, but I am starting to find myself getting excited about embarking on this newest adventure. I am going to take the GRE this summer and hopefully decide on a school and program by early fall so I can start applying. My goal is to start school in the fall of 2019 and, with any luck, be wearing a cap and gown again before I turn 35.

Photo by Dani Vivanco on Unsplash

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