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Should You Go to Graduate School?

Will a Master's or Doctorate Degree Help Your Career

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Woman walking up stairs to receive her Masters Degree, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
Megan Q Daniels / First Light / Getty Images

Are you thinking of going to graduate school? If you want to work in some occupations, you don't have a choice. An advanced degree such as a master's or doctorate degree is required. For example, to become an attorney, psychologist, librarian or doctor you need an advanced degree to get licensed. Employees who hire people in some other occupations won't even look at a candidate who doesn't have an advanced degree although one isn't technically required to do the job. There are other careers for which you don't actually need an advanced degree but you may be considering earning one because you think it can help your career. The perceived benefits include career advancement, higher earnings and skills development. Some people simply love learning and want to continue their education for that reason alone.

Costs vs Benefits

Regardless of why you want to go to graduate school, you should put a lot of thought into this decision. It is a very demanding endeavor, both emotionally  and financially. Programs are generally quite rigorous (not to mention expensive) and you may have to give up many extracurricular activities, including possibly your job. Many students find it difficult to fit classes and schoolwork into a busy work schedule. Before making a commitment to attend grad school, make sure the benefits of earning a degree will outweigh the costs.

Deciding What to Study

Before you can decide what school to apply to, you have to choose a course of study. Should you get an advanced degree in the same discipline in which you did your undergraduate work? That may or may not be your best choice. You might instead consider getting your master's or doctorate degree in a discipline that complements your bachelor's degree. For example if you have a bachelor's degree in biochemistry you might consider earning an MBA. As with any other aspect of planning your career, you should take enormous care in choosing the area in which you will do your graduate study.

Choosing the Right School

Once you decide what to study, you can finally choose where to study it. Select a program with a good reputation by asking others in your field, especially those in charge of hiring, which programs they respect the most. In addition, consider the cost and location of the school, what accreditation it has, it's faculty and available research and internship opportunities. Look at the entrance requirements. Do you have to take an admissions test like the GRE or GMAT? Is the school looking for candidates with a certain GPA? Do you need an undergraduate degree in the same major to be accepted?

Perhaps you are thinking of earning your degree online. Should you? Online education may be helpful for students who don't live near the programs they want to attend or have responsibilities that make enrolling in a traditional program difficult. Make sure you have the characteristics to succeed in this type of program and before you apply, make sure the one you choose is reputable.

To do your research about grad schools, you can consult print directories that contain basic information. Local libraries often have these books available. You can also find online directories. Professional associations' websites often have lists of programs. Consult the schools themselves to find the most current information since any of these directories may not be updated frequently.

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