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Applying to Graduate School

Determining if Graduate School is the Right Choice for You

Graduate school is perfect for people who enjoy research and learning. It is not ideal for people who merely want to take more courses, or for those who are in a rush to get a job.
Undergraduate study differs from graduate education in that it requires more of your time, motivation, and effort. It also entails forming professional and personal relationships with professors and other students. Generally, it challenges you in what you want to achieve in your life.

The Right Time for Graduate School

The right time to pursue an advanced degree is situational. You can embark on graduate school right after you receive your bachelor’s degree, a year after graduation, or even several years later. If you are approaching graduation, and you have decided that graduate school is the next step for you, it may be helpful if you ask yourself the following questions:

1) Are you ready for another three to eight years of studying?
2) Should you take time off before moving on to graduate school?
3) If you want to take time off, why?

If the main reason for taking time off is fatigue, then ask yourself if the two or three months of vacation before graduate school can help you revitalize yourself. If you are convinced that graduate school is the next step for you, then there is no reason why you should delay your application.

Right after Graduation

If the knowledge you acquired in your undergraduate education is specifically relevant to your graduate program, then this option may be the right one for you. Other reasons for going straight to graduate school include your excellence as a student; your current status of having few (or no) obligations, both personally and financially; and your interest in pursuing an area of expertise that requires a graduate degree.

Take time to ensure that graduate school is right for you. Advanced study requires a considerable amount of motivation and the ability to work independently. Sometimes, a vacation from studying may help intensify your motivation and enhance your skills. As such, you may want to consider the following option.

After a Sufficient Rest Period

Many graduates take a year off before they start their graduate program. You can use this time to work, both to help you fund your studies and to gain experience. Perhaps, you simply want to travel. If you are traveling, remember to apply for courses at the right time, keeping in mind that you might be asked to attend an interview or an admission test. You will need to plan well ahead, sometimes as long as 18 months prior to application. In the case of some overseas programs, it is common for students to put together a timeline before they begin focusing on their time off.

It is important to understand that pursuing a graduate degree a number of years after undergraduate study is not uncommon. Some time off can be valuable if it improves your qualifications and primes you for the pressures and rigors of graduate school.

After Working Full-time

The reasons for acquiring work experience before graduate school include acquiring a better understanding of your professional objectives, obtaining relevant work experience, and developing a more responsible attitude toward studying. If you know in advance that you intend to pursue a graduate education after several years of work, look for an employer with a tuition reimbursement program. Often, employers are willing to finance part, or all, of the expenses entailed in graduate study.

While Working

The biggest percentage of the graduate school student population consists of part-time students. The idea of supplemental education is a growing trend because rapid industry changes affect almost all fields of expertise. Continuing to work, whether on a part time or a full time basis, can also be a means of paying for expenses incurred during the course of your graduate study.

Master’s vs. Doctoral Degrees

It is a common misconception that a prospective PhD student must possess a Master’s degree to enter a doctoral program. Although majority of graduate programs do require this, it is not always the case. It is better to conduct your own research and investigate the degree requirements for a program as opposed to making an assumption. In this booklet, we provide some of the more significant differences between being a Masteral and a Doctoral candidate.

The Masteral Candidate

You will spend, on the average, about two years in graduate school. The purpose of this program is to provide you with solid education in a specialized academic discipline

Your First Year The enrollment process is similar to that for undergraduate study. You are required to fulfill the coursework requirements of your degree. However, the work will be heavier, the course topics will be more specialized, and much more will be expected from you than when you were an undergraduate. With your adviser’s help (chosen by you or assigned by the program), you will start to solidify your academic focus.

Your Second Year You may take more advanced classes to complete your course requirements. Having determined your research direction, you will gradually spend more effort toward the completion of your thesis. Depending on your pace, you may need one semester or an entire academic year for you to finish your masteral thesis, the objective of which is to show your mastery in your area of study.

The Doctoral Candidate

You will spend, on the average, five to six years in graduate school. The purpose of the program is to provide you with comprehensive knowledge of your field, prepare you to conduct original and significant research, and make you ready to become a member of a teaching faculty.

Your First Three Years You will enroll in classes to fulfill your degree requirements and obtain comprehensive knowledge of your field of study. You will gradually establish your research direction, often consulting with an adviser (usually) appointed at the start of your graduate study. By the end of your second or third year, you would have completed a thesis or taken comprehensive exams, or both. The thesis and/or exams will allow your professors to evaluate your capabilities to continue with doctoral studies.

Your Last Three Years Coursework becomes a minor component of your academic workload, and may even disappear as you conceptualize your dissertation, a novel and significant contribution to the available knowledge in your specialization. You will teach more and more classes and gradually collaborate more with senior faculty members. You will form a close professional relationship with a faculty member who shares the same research interests as you do, and he/she will become your dissertation adviser. Your program will end with the completion of your dissertation, which may entail an oral defense of your research before a panel of faculty members and/or experts in the field you are in.