If you are asking yourself this question then you are thinking about embarking on a very interesting journey. I remember in the good ol’ days when I was single (not too long ago 🙂 ) we were always reminded to consider the following when choosing a life partner: the right person, the right place and the right time…I think these three hold true when you are thinking of applying to grad school (instead of right person, I say right program) and I’ll add a couple more: right reasons and right resources.
1. Right program
When considering the program, you need to consider BOTH the strength/type of program you are applying for and how it fits into your overall career/professional goals. You’ll notice for both Masters and PhD applications there is a section where they ask you what are your career goals and how do you see the program helping you achieve those goals.
It is so important that you genuinely take the time to consider the answer to this question because the big picture matters. Where do you see yourself in 5 years, how will the Masters/PhD help you get there? These are real considerations because perhaps for where you want to be, you don’t need a masters or a PhD, you need a specific set of skills or a professional designation.
The other part to the program is that unlike undergrad where you apply to such and such school, for a Masters or PhD you want to know the quality of the particular program that you are applying to. For example, Harvard University might have a great Law program, but a not-so-great Masters in Social Work program (purely an example, I have no idea what their social work program is like, I’m NOT in social work…but you get my drift). So you want to inform yourself, do your research, talk to past grads to find out if the particular program you are applying to is great. Check out the rankings for the specific school.
You might want to also consider if it is a new program vs. a well established program (5 to 10 years plus). My Masters program was brand-new when we applied and we were the first cohort, so we were sort of guinea pigs for the program which was often frustrating. That being said, we also got away with ALOT because they were still figuring out things within the program. A well established program might not be as flexible, but might have alumni for years who can connect you to the ‘field’ once you are done, plus if people know about it then that might increase your employability at the end of the program. 5 years on, and the Masters program that I did is now well known and well recognized even though it didn’t start out that way.
2. Right place
This matters for me most when applying for a PhD especially because you will likely be there a for long. Masters programs tend to be 1-3 years long so the city might not be as much a consideration in terms of your experience there. That being said, you might want to consider what the job market is like in the city where you are doing your Masters. It is easiest to network in the city where you have already built some professional networks through your graduate school; a metropolitan city for your Masters could have its perks – again depending on your field, but might also have stiffer competition for jobs. In the case of a PhD, most programs have residency requirements where you have to be living in the city for at least 1-2 years so think about that and how it might affect you not just professionally but also personally. If you are thinking of moving your whole family there, how would that affect school for kids, or is it temporary or permanent? Will you be commuting…will it affect your significant other? Are they willing to move? All questions to think about.
3. Right time
This is something that only you can figure out ie no one can really tell you what the right time is to do your Masters or PhD. Timing matters…and this is where prayer for guidance can be really helpful. God might be leading you do to a masters or PhD, but you also want to know that it is the right time. So spending some meaningful time in prayer is important to have that conviction that timing is right.
I’ve found that taking a break between undergad and masters and between masters and PhD is very helpful. Not only does it give you some down time, it also allows you to hopefully gain some professional experience (even if its 1-2 years) that will shape your perspective as a graduate student. Plus if you do decide to go professional post Masters or PhD, you have some work experience as opposed to someone who was in school straight through. I’ll elaborate more on this in a future post about working before grad school. But timing matters. Also when applying to a PhD, keep in mind that most of the major scholarship are applied for a year in advance so while you are in your first year, you apply for funding for your second year. This relates to the next point which is resources…and I’ll talk more about funding in later posts.
4. Right reasons
This one is a long one so I wont go into all the details but just as you would take the right considerations for getting married, it is important to think of the reasons for getting into a Masters or PhD program. PhD’s require even more commitment than a Masters particularly because of the difference in duration and program requirements. I am soon doing a post on 5 reasons NOT to do a PhD…I’ll balance that out with some great reasons a PhD and/or a Masters could enrich your skills professionally. Whatever your reasons are ultimately, weigh them out, pray about it and try as much as you can to make an informed decision.
5. Right Resources
The resources you have with you are quite important especially when doing an advanced degree – Masters or PhD. By resources, I am talking about spiritual, financial, emotional, professional etc. You need to check on the funding options that you have, consider if you are willing to take on a loan for your Masters…or PhD, find out what scholarships are available, what work opportunities. It’s important to be realistic about how much you can work during your program. Masters in general tend to be very intense with heavy course load especially if it is a professional program such as an MPH, MSW, MBA, so you have to be realistic about your expectations. Emotional and Spiritual support is crucial through friends, family and church , and professional support would help steer you and mentor you in the right direction.
Whatever your ultimate decision is, remember that with God on your side, there’s nothing you can’t do!
Is there anything I missed? Feel free to add other considerations…