So, you’re thinking of applying for a graduate degree…
You may be all set to apply for the 2018 school year and you are starting preparations early.
Or perhaps you have thought about the idea of adding a credential to your already solid résumé.
Possibly flirting with the idea gaining a specialization or skill set in order to improve your effectiveness in your current dream job?
Wherever you may be, you are probably facing some doubts or fears that may sound something like this:
- Everyone has a graduate degree nowadays; will it even be beneficial?
- How is a graduate degree going to help me stick out from other candidates in this economy and climate?
- I want a degree but am I even qualified?
- A degree would be great but I can’t afford it.
- I would love to have an additional credential but there’s no way I could actually complete a Ph.D.
I am familiar with these fears and doubting thoughts as well. But it’s important to remember, fears are not necessarily truths but once they surface, it is a good opportunity to reflect on them. To help, I have put together 5 questions to consider before applying to grad school and to finally put these thoughts to rest.
“Fears are not necessarily truths”
Whether you are considering a master’s, a college, a doctoral or a professional degree, these questions provide general guidance in your decision:
- Do I need a graduate degree right now or should I work first?
- Do I want to specialize further in my field, have I discovered a gap in research or a burning research topic that I want to research further?
- Is my research topic/field/profession constantly on my mind?
- Have I received feedback that I would be suitable for grad school?
- Will a grad degree help me in my future goals and desires?
After each question, I have provided my own experience and answers to each of these questions for myself.
1. Do I need a graduate degree right now or should I work first?
There is no right or wrong here. I don’t believe it’s necessary to take years between degrees but I can also see where it is beneficial. For me, I went straight from my Bachelor’s degree to my Master’s and took 4 years after that before applying to my Ph.D. During this time I gained experience both locally and abroad, increased my skill set and learned a lot. But most of all what I gained was time. This time allowed me to be a part of a research project from inception to completion, create a literature review and a published paper. It allowed me to dip my toes into the nonprofit world and realize it wasn’t for me. It led me to an experience where I wrote another literature review on precarious work and political apathy. Which further brought me to an opportunity with MaRS Discovery District to pursue this research further. And ultimately led me to my future research thesis question for my Ph.D. and exactly where I always wanted to be – in higher education.
2. Do I want to specialize further in my field, have I discovered a gap in research or a burning research topic that I want to research further?
For me, I found my profession early and therefore knew I wanted to specialize ASAP, which led me to my Master’s degree right away. But everyone is different. After this, my work experience led me to my research topic for my Ph.D. This was extremely important for me. I had many ideas and topics in the social work profession that I wanted to research further, many approaches that were a good fit to do so but it was important to me that it spoke to my interests and was an urgent need. As corny as this may sound – my research topic chose me, I didn’t choose it.
3. Is my research topic/field/profession constantly on my mind?
Once you have your topic, it’s important that it’s something that you are interested in…like really interested in. Do you find yourself following this field/topic on the daily? In your spare time? Are there specific academics who are experts in the field and are eager to learn more from? Do you find yourself thinking about possible research methodologies on the bus, or before bed? Well, I did and I still do. And this is how I knew 100% this was the right path for me.
4. Have I received feedback that I would be suitable for grad school?
Another important aspect of applying was confidence from leaders in my field. As I was gaining more research experience, presenting my research at conferences and networking with other practitioners, I was also hearing feedback that I should pursue my Ph.D. It was nice to feel validated in my own goals and it gave me the confidence to push myself further. If your mentors are providing you with this feedback or nurturing and molding you for potential, it’s because you have it. Now you need to ask yourself, do you want it?
5. Will a grad degree help me in my future goals and desires?
Lastly, as much as we all put it off – you need to reflect on your short and long-term goals. Do you see yourself as a leader in this field? In academia? Teaching? Pursuing research? If not, this may not be the route for you. Are there one or two courses you can take that may be more suitable for your needs for less money? Or perhaps College might be better. Do whatever you need to do to reflect on your long-term career goals. Meditate, talk to your loved ones, grab a drink with a friend, journal, reflect or seek advice.
After you have asked yourself these questions, you may be thinking it’s not the right time for me right now and that’s okay – it might be better to come back and reflect on these questions next year. Or maybe you feel confident in your journey to start applying to grad school and that’s an awesome realization. There is no ‘one size fits all’ time to start this journey, it is something you need to find out for yourself. But if you have taken the time to reflect and made sure it is a good fit, you will enjoy the journey a whole lot more.
One of my favourite most beautiful, inspiring, creative, juicy and free-flowing writers is Danielle LaPorte. After I decided I was ready to apply for my Ph.D., this quote summed up exactly what I was feeling and truthfully what I am still feeling. This quote is from her recent book titled “White Hot Truth”.
“You can be deeply certain, and slightly doubtful. You can be scared, and really, really ready.” Danielle LaPorte
If you are looking to dig deeper or for some inspiration, some truth or to get real with your true core desires, I suggest you go look up Danielle LaPorte and get your hands on one or all of her books.
Application due dates are usually around December/January so don’t worry – you have time. I encourage you to keep track of dates if you are serious about applying. Upcoming blog posts will dig deeper into the process of applying. In the meantime, take a look at the free eBook here on 5 steps towards a successful grad school application. And most of all, enjoy making this important and exciting decision.
Unit next time,
P.S Don’t forget to use #ScholarCulture and #ScholarSquad to keep me updated on your experiences as grad students!