If graduate school is your chosen pathway, how do you make the best choice?  I’ve chosen twice and have given considerable time to what I should have pondered.  Here are some things to consider before you make this significant choice.

Consider These Things

Here are some things you should think about before choosing your graduate school pathway:

Why am I doing this?

Is it for personal edification, career advancement, someone has recommended it, or because (as for some undergrads) it’s just the next step?  You have to actively make the choice to go.  This must be something of which you are aware.  If your answer for “Why graduate school?” is “I don’t know” or you give the textbook answer because it is easiest, you might want to rethink what you are about to undertake.

Money

There are many schools that offer no assistance (other than loans) for financial aid; there are other institutions that will address in-state tuition costs (typically state institutions which require residency).  Then, there are a handful of institutions where certain disciplines (such as STEM) will generate a higher stipend than the school minimum.  In all of these situations, you must ask yourself the following:

  • What is your return on investment?  Will you ever pay the debt of the graduate education you choose, given the career field?  Possible resolutions include an institutional change or declining attendance.  How long will a return on investment take and is that a reasonable return?
  • If you earn a stipend, is it enough?  If another school offers a better stipend, you must ask yourself why they do so?
  • Will you need to make a residency shift?  If so, know that this may impact insurance (health, car, etc.), taxes (yours and that of your family), car ownership, and tons of other things.

Insurance

If you’re under 21 you may have never thought about this.  But, health insurance is paramount.  Just because nothing has happened doesn’t mean nothing will happen.  Is it included?  If not, how much does it cost?  Related to this consideration is the quality of the coverage and if the institution has healthcare facilities on its campus.

Environment

I mean this in a literal and emotional sense.

First, can you handle the location of the graduate school you chose?  If you’re from Georgia, can you handle exceptionally cold winters or cities that have introverted demeanors?  If you’re from Montana, can you handle a Texas summer?

Second, what is the working environment of the school (and of the advisees of the person you’ll probably study with)?  Personal story:  at a graduate school I visited, I accidentally discovered a 7th-year PhD student (two years later than the norm for mathematics) who was still working on the research to complete his dissertation and who was very unhappy.  In general this person was probably an outlier, but it was good to see a “bad” scenario.

Finally, I want to reference lifestyle (and not necessarily amenities).  Is there an exercise facility (immensely important–do not neglect your body)?  Is the area safe?  What is the cost of living?  Are there things to do and enjoy?  If you have a particular faith background, is a branch of your group present there?  Five-ten years (depending on the discipline) is an exceptionally large part of your life to be unhappy or living in unsafe conditions.

Conclusion

Graduate school is not an easy choice; good luck.  I hope that I’ve given you things to think about and I hope that you feel more confident in choosing the best path for you.

Look for another article on this topic, soon.

Best,

Jon

Jon

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Consider These Things Before Choosing Graduate School
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