Why Go to Graduate School?

See if a Master's degree or Ph.D. will help your career

Woman walking up stairs to receive her Masters Degree, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
••• Megan Q Daniels / First Light / Getty Images

Are you wondering whether you should go to graduate school? If you want to work in certain professions, you will need a master's degree or doctorate to get licensed. Employees who hire people in some other occupations won't even look at a candidate who doesn't have a graduate degree, even if one isn't technically required to do the job. There are other careers for which an advanced degree isn't a necessity, but it can be helpful to those who choose to earn one. Regardless of why you are considering going to grad school—whether it is required to get a job in the field you want to enter or not— you have a big decision to make.

Costs vs. Benefits

Earning a master's or Ph.D. is a very demanding endeavor, both emotionally and financially. Most programs are quite rigorous (not to mention expensive), and you may have to give up many of your other activities, possibly including your job. Many students find it difficult to fit classes and schoolwork into a busy work schedule. Before committing to grad school, make sure the benefits of earning a degree will outweigh the costs. Questions you should ask yourself are:

  • Will having an advanced degree open up more job opportunities?
  • Will my earnings increase?
  • Will I gain valuable knowledge and skills that will help me do my job better?

Deciding What to Study

Before you can decide what school to apply to, you have to choose a course of study. Should you get an advanced degree in the same discipline in which you did your undergraduate work? That may or may not be your best choice. 

You might instead consider studying a subject that complements your bachelor's degree. For example, if you studied biochemistry in college and work in that field, you might think about earning an M.B.A. to help you advance to a managerial position. As with any other aspect of planning your career, you should take great care in choosing the area in which you will do your graduate study.

How to Choose the Right School

Once you decide what to study, you can finally choose a graduate school. Make sure to pick a reputable program. Talk to people who have some insight into how hiring and career advancement work in the field you work in or the one you plan to enter. Find out which graduate programs they most respect.

Also, consider the cost and location of the school, what accreditation it has, its faculty, and what research and internship opportunities are available. Look at the entrance requirements as well. Do you have to take an admissions test like the GRE or GMAT? Do you need a minimum undergraduate grade point average? Does your undergraduate degree have to be in the same major or is their prerequisite coursework you need? For example, must you have taken undergraduate classes in business administration to enter an MBA program? If you do, you may have to complete those courses before you apply.

If you are thinking about earning an online degree, think about whether you have the characteristics to succeed in that type of environment. While distance education is helpful for students who don't live near the schools they want to attend or have responsibilities that make enrolling in a traditional program difficult, many people have difficulty learning outside a classroom. 

You must be self-motivated, have excellent time management skills, and be very well organized. Once you decide that you have those characteristics, make sure the school you choose is reputable, Just as you would with any graduate program.

To begin your research about grad schools, consult print and online directories which are available at most public libraries. They will provide basic facts such as a description of the program, accreditation, tuition, and contact information. Professional associations often publish lists of educational programs on their websites, as do organizations that are responsible for accrediting schools.

When you have compiled a list of programs, start doing more in-depth research about each one. Consult each schools' website. There is usually a wealth of information there. Once you have narrowed down your list, contact each academic department by phone or email to get answers to any additional questions.