In recent decades, going to college right after high school has become a widely accepted path for most students. However, graduate school remains a questionable endeavor for many, as students are generally less informed about this level of education—and why it may not be right for everyone. I interviewed several students from the University of Arizona to understand their experience with graduate school. Here’s what they had to say.
Choosing grad school vs. starting a career
Q: What should students consider before choosing to continue their education, and what determines when a student should transition to the workforce?
“Students go to grad school because they need a specific skill set. A student should transition into the workforce when they know they have the right skills, which may be after a bachelor’s or master’s degree.” — Courtney Boyd, Speech Language Pathology master’s student
“You should ask yourself if you still value the education you get, even if you end up in a job that doesn’t require anything more than a bachelor’s degree.” — Shawn Diamond, Art History PhD student
“If the student would like to stay in the academic world, continuing to the PhD [level] is really the only way. It may be a good idea to enter the workforce between degrees if they aren’t too sure what they would like to do.” — Faezeh Faezipour, Art History PhD student
“It depends on what job you want to obtain—some require master’s and/or PhD degrees. There may be a salary gap between jobs requiring master’s or PhD degrees. Students might want experience in the workforce because of academic burnout. Other students may want to continue in academia because of a problematic job market for their field.” — Shelby Miller, Art History PhD student
Grad school workload vs. undergrad
Q: What is the typical workload like for grad school compared to undergrad?
“There is a huge gap between the undergrad and graduate workload. There is more pressure to specialize in one area for your career [in graduate school]. This comes with denser readings, less memorization, while truly learning how to research and write.” — Miller
“In my experience, I utilize principles that I previously learned. The professors place higher expectations on you; they push you to your limits.” — Boyd
“This degree requires not only a higher workload, but also a new way of thinking. It is this new way of thinking that can be overwhelming. A PhD becomes more about pushing yourself than the department pushing you. Going into a PhD, I do not think the workload necessarily becomes heavier, but there are more outside expectations (research and dissertations) that push your ability for time management.” — Diamond
“The student is required to conduct original research, and in most cases, this means taking initiative and doing work outside of class.” — Faezipour
Finding the best graduate program for you
Q: How does one determine the best program for their aspirations?
“Funding not only ends up being a signifier of the department’s investment in their students, but it changes what you get out of the program. If a student is not funded, they will be limited in what professional opportunities they can take advantage of (conferences, traveling for research, etc.).” — Diamond
“What program will suit your interests? What program will place you at a more competitive level?” — Boyd
“A PhD is about your potential advisors—find scholars that match your research. You should have options for people to work with and support your projects. Also, ask about what kind of teaching experience you will get and how you will interact with students.” — Miller
Related: Find a Grad School Program That Fits
These responses serve to underscore how rigorous the educational standards are for graduate students and what an accomplishment it is to earn an advanced degree from any university. Remember to think wisely before choosing to pursue additional education, and be sure to research all the pros and cons before taking the plunge.