Determining when to go to grad school can be tricky. Some students apply immediately after graduating from college while others wait until they get some professional experience under their belt. Going to grad school directly from undergrad can be appealing especially if you’ve gotten comfortable in an academic atmosphere and want to square away your degrees as quickly as you can. Depending on your field it may also make sense to apply to grad school right after college especially if you’re interested in getting your PhD down the line. That said, a lot of professional master’s degree programs highly value work experience after college. There are plenty of other good reasons to wait before applying to grad school and we’ll explore a few of them in this article.
Clarify your chosen field
Working entry-level positions in your field of interest after your undergraduate degree will allow you to explore your talent, gauge your passion, and network with professionals. With these experiences, you can be more confident that your chosen field is truly your life’s calling. With clarification, you can also consider types of graduate programs more carefully. For example, perhaps your interest in social work grows but you find that you will need to get specific clinical certification based on what you learn about the population you’d like to specialize in and work with.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you consider your field and longer term goals:
- What experiences have led me to choose this degree path?
- What are my career goals and do they demand a graduate degree at this time?
- Have my mentors in this field earned graduate degrees? Did they go to grad school directly after college or have advice about when would be most advantageous?
Experience now means better learning later
Learning in the classroom can be more meaningful when you have professional experiences to relate and connect back to. Your professional experience prior to graduate school can provide insights that allow you to explore topics more deeply than fellow students with less experience outside of the classroom. Reflecting on your professional experience so far and drilling down what you know and what skills and information you still seek can also help you refine what you’re looking for from your graduate education.
Strengthen your graduate school application
Admission to graduate school can be quite competitive. Admissions teams review everything from your grades and test scores to your resume and personal essays. They are most interested in candidates who demonstrate an ability to succeed in school, have a background and personality that compliment others in their cohort, contribute to a positive classroom community, and can find success in their career as an alum. The more work experience you have prior to applying, the more realistic your professional goals are going to be, and the better a resource you will be to your classmates in discussions, study groups, and networking in the field. Additionally, if you’re feeling nervous about your undergraduate grades, professional experience can help round out your application and showcase your ability to perform outside of the classroom.
Some questions to ask yourself as you assess your application and consider waiting include:
- What will strengthen my application in the eyes of the admissions officers who will read it?
- Do graduate programs I am interested in typically prefer more experienced candidates?
- In what ways can I gain meaningful work experience prior to grad school, so that when I graduate I have the edge of experience combined with education?
More time to study for standardized admissions exams
It can be tough to balance studying for the GRE, LSAT, or other graduate admissions exams on top of a full college course load. Taking time between your undergraduate and graduate degrees allows you some additional time to study and prepare for these exams. While it may still be tricky to balance your test preparation with employment after college, some find they have more time to devote to study on weeknights and weekends when they are not in the office especially if they elect to take a standardized test preparation course.
For more information about graduate admissions exams as well as how to prepare for them, make sure to read our article, Taking the GRE and Other Grad School Admission Tests.
Build your financial readiness
It’s true that a graduate education has the potential to increase your earnings. However, by taking a few years after college to pay down student loan debt, and potentially start saving for your graduate degree or other financial goals, you can put yourself in a more comfortable financial position during grad school and beyond.
Some questions to consider as you review your finances and think about the future include:
- What can I do in the next one to three years that will strengthen my financial standing?
- What financial goals do I have, for grad school and beyond?
- What does my budget look like while I’m paying down my current undergraduate student loans?
For further reading about assessing your finances for graduate school, take a look at our article, Are You Financially Ready for Grad School?
Going straight from college on to grad school is a choice you should consider carefully. We hope these considerations and questions to ask yourself help you make an informed decision about your next steps.