Rebecca Doak, executive director of the Center for Student Success at the University of Mount Union in Alliance, meets regularly with students considering graduate school. Some students walk into Doak's office with a clear vision of their future plans, while others come with a vague idea. Regardless of the student's goal, Doak encourages them to think through similar questions.
Should I go on to grad school? What should I study specifically? What is my goal?
Doak administers personality assessments to students considering grad school to help them decide. She also encourages them do their research, comparing all careers in a field and finding the best fit.
"It's really important to do your work prior to your admittance to grad school," she said.
Louise Ditchey, administrative director for the college of business graduate programs at Kent State University, agreed that graduate school is most effective when candidates have researched the expected salary range and career path associated with the degree. She said that whether a grad student is looking to gain a deeper understanding of their current field or refocusing and shifting to a new career, it is important to have a clear goal.
"That way, the time in graduate school is well-spent and effective," Ditchey said.
Ditchey said to be sure about grad school, a person should develop a clear understanding of how he or she wants their career to progress. Do they want to stay with the same company or the same industry? What parts of their current job are most enjoyable and successful? What skills might they need to develop?
Pay is a practical factor that can help a student decide on a masters degree.
"Increasing your income potential is very important," Doak said.
Because school is expensive, it might be wise to look further down the road at income potential. Will a masters degree in this field increase your salary enough to warrant the investment?
Unlike undergraduate education, grad school tuition can be paid for in full through loans. While loans of this size can be daunting, Doak said this can be a good investment of time and money if the pay increase is worth it. If a grad student opts to defer undergraduate loans while enrolling in school, Doak suggests checking with the loan servicer to see that when they are deferred, loans are not still accruing interest.
Patience is important for individuals looking into graduate programs. Rather than make rash decisions out of excitement, Doak encourages students to be sure before committing to a program.
Unlike undergraduate study, transferring between graduate programs can be difficult. Freshmen and sophomores in college frequently change majors and adjust their career trajectory. Doak said it is important to be sure about a grad program because many times, credits don't transfer easily between programs or universities.
Ditchey said that in cases where a student is unsure about a career path or has no real work experience, it may be better to work for a year or two before entering the graduate level.
Once an individual is certain that grad school is for them, there are several factors to weigh when selecting the specific program. Malone University graduate recruiter Mona McAuliffe said the most important of these factors is quality of the offering. Recommendations from friends or colleagues can be useful. For career adults returning to graduate school to advance in their field, McAuliffe suggested working with an employer to see which program they suggest.
McAuliffe said it is helpful to listen and consider what graduates are saying about the program.
Doak also said it is important to look at the success rates of former students. "I think that's the biggest question to ask a graduate school: Where are your graduates working? That's the proof for their program," she said.