So you’ve decided to go to graduate school. Congratulations! It’s a commendable choice that reflects your commitment to improving yourself now and setting a strong foundation for your future. But preparing for graduate school can be a little scary, at least at first. Here’s how I did it.
When I was deciding if I should go to graduate school, I asked myself three questions that I think every student should ponder:
1. Am I ready for grad school?
After completing my undergraduate education, I had to ask myself, “am I ready for grad school?” I was exhausted from leading student organizations, competing in a highly-demanding academic environment, and so not ready to accept that I would no longer live within a one-mile radius of all my brilliant best friends with whom I would go to Burger King in the middle of the night.
I knew nothing about the “real world” beyond a 10-week summer internship I did after my junior year. I wanted work experience, a normal sleep schedule, and a solid workout and cooking routine.
So instead of rushing into grad school, I took three years after my undergraduate degree to work at one of the most rewarding and welcoming Fortune 100 companies in the U.S. I moved back home, paid off my student loans, saved money, adopted a healthy lifestyle, and made myself personally ready for graduate school.
My point is, it’s okay to press pause. Get some work experience, pay off your debts (if you have any), and put yourself first—whatever that means for you (enjoying hobbies, picking up a new skill, or binge-watching TV).
2. Is this a smart financial decision?
When preparing for graduate school, be sure to research graduate school scholarships, graduate grants and fellowships, as well as graduate student loans.
You should also carefully study the employment outcomes of your program (and of your school). Keep an eye on student loan interest rates and only borrow what you need. Some programs even recommend against working a part-time job while in school because of the academic demands of a full-time graduate program.
3. Have I built a support system for when things get tough?
A big part of preparing for graduate school is having the right support system. Going to graduate school full-time, especially after being in the workforce, is a big adjustment. Maybe you’ve given up a salary, moved far away from all your friends, and found that the academic demands are more challenging than you anticipated.
All of this happened to me when I moved away from my home state of Illinois for the first time to go to law school in California. Having a support system you can rely on—your parents, your best friend, a significant other, your pet, a study group—is key to motivate you, to remind you to believe in yourself when the task ahead of you seems insurmountable. It will ensure that you see how special you are—beyond any letter grade, fancy job, or prestigious award.
Go for it—on your terms
Here’s the good news: Once you’re ready for it, graduate school will be a transformative experience. The fact that you’ve decided to go demonstrates that you’re thoughtful about developing yourself.
You will become resilient. You will be amazed at what your mind is capable of doing. You will be in the company of motivated, passionate, and like-minded peers who will help you grow. Undoubtedly, you will impact and influence them too. You will develop precious friendships and learn from excellent teachers. It will be among the most memorable experiences of your life.