Expert Answers to 7 Common Graduate School Questions

Author, Enrollment Expert

If you are reading this article, mostly likely you have decided to pursue graduate study. Way to go! Below are some questions many prospective graduate students ask, along with my responses.

1. Should I consider full-time, part-time, or online graduate programs?

There are pros and cons for each of these options. Going to grad school full time allows you to finish more quickly but also means a possible change in employment status and income. As for the student experience, full-time grad students tend to develop more of a social network, which translates into continued personal and professional relationships after graduation. Part-time students are usually juggling the demands of their studies with employment obligations. This does not allow much time for socializing and developing networks (let alone class work or extracurricular opportunities). However, remaining employed tends to lessen the financial pressure. Pursing a degree program online offers the most flexibility in terms of scheduling courses and degree completion but does not offer the degree of networking or career service options usually afforded to full- and part-time students.

Related: Grad School Choices: Full Time or Part Time, On Campus or Online, Now or Later?

2. What if some important people in my life are discouraging me from going to graduate school?

Why are they trying to discourage you? Do you believe any of their reasons are valid? If so, do you believe you have a valid response? How well do you know these individuals? If they are loved ones or friends you trust, then you should do yourself a service to listen. However, they also need to do you the service of listening to what you have to say. This is your life after all, and you have to live with the consequences of your actions. You do not be in a position of one day looking back and asking, “What if I’d gone ahead with my dream of a graduate education?”

3. What if I want to go to grad school more for the credential and financial rewards than for the educational and intellectual benefits?

Join the club! Many, many individuals pursue a graduate degree for more “practical” reasons than intellectual stimulation or the desire to learn more. They are looking for increased financial opportunities and career growth, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, do not forget the amazing—and challenging—educational experience that awaits you as a graduate student. It is truly one of a kind.

Related: 5 Reasons You Should NOT Go to Grad School (and What to Do Instead)

4. All the graduate programs marketing to me are starting to look and sound the same! How can I trust what I see in their marketing materials?

As with any type of advertising, graduate institutions want to put their best foot forward. Often they do so using words, phrases, and imagery that is so similar it all blends together. Do not be surprised by this. If you dig deeper, you will be able to start making some helpful comparisons. For instance, get a list of a few recent graduates from the program to which you are applying and contact them. What do these individuals have to say? (Remember, they are no longer enrolled, so they can be more, if not completely, candid with you.) Did they get what they wanted from the program? What about the faculty—how well known are they? How recently have they been published? Visit the campus if at all possible. What did you observe? How were you treated? How did you fit in? Overall, how did you feel? The way one feels during a campus visit is an important indicator as to how one will feel as a student at the school.

5. What if my first-choice graduate program (or the program I end up in) is not as prestigious as some others on my list?

Long-term success is not directly correlated with the prestige factor of your institution. No doubt about it, prestige may open a few more doors, but keeping them open is all up to you. Being an outstanding worker, with persistence and determination, opens doors too—more than you may realize. Hard work always pays off. Always.

6. At what point does an institution shift from being wonderfully responsive to appearing desperate to recruit me?

Graduate students are a hot commodity, and graduate programs of all levels—even the most selective institutions—are eager to recruit them. As the competition for graduate students increases, so does the level of contact institutions will have with them. It may be a bit difficult to distinguish between genuine interest and overkill. But do your best to follow your gut. Does the contact seem reasonable? Are you being contacted more than once per week (that might be a bit excessive)? Are the contacts made to you varied and do they contain new and helpful information? Are folks respectful of you and your time? Are those contacting you upbeat, rather than begging you to apply all the time? Are they careful not to speak unkindly or inappropriately about other programs you may be considering? Trust your gut in your interactions.

7. What if going to graduate school seems economically unfeasible?

Cost will always be an important consideration before entering grad school, especially since you will likely be considered an "independent" student for financial aid purposes (and that's a whole new ball game). It is helpful if you have at least one year of grad school tuition “in the bank” before you enroll. You should also know exactly what your graduate program will cost, as well as how you will be paying for it. Make sure you know what financial aid you can receive, including loans, scholarships, assistantships, fellowships, work-study, etc. Do some financial planning. You might consider meeting with a financial advisor, or with trusted family and/or friends. If you have a spouse or serious partner, they should be a part of the conversation as well. Cover all your financial bases—do not leave anything to chance. Applying to graduate school is a waste of time if you have not planned, to the best of your ability, for the financial responsibilities you are about to assume.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Graduate Financial Aid

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