Considering and reconsidering grad school

Students should understand the realities of grad school before deciding to go.

Trent M. Kays

ItâÄôs the time of year when senior undergraduate students are gearing up and writing for graduate school application deadlines. ItâÄôs a hectic time of the year for many seniors because not only do they have to worry about their coursework, but itâÄôs also decision time regarding graduate school. ThereâÄôs no doubt that many seniors have thought this decision over many times, wondering whether itâÄôs worth the commitment, and more importantly, whether there will be a job awaiting them after they finish.
No matter how many times someone has thought about pursing graduate work, they should think it over again. Then, they should think it over one more time. ThereâÄôs more riding on this decision than probably any other at this time in a studentâÄôs life. ItâÄôs important.
The thing about graduate school is that our undergraduate work often does not prepare us for graduate work. A bachelorâÄôs degree is not meant to prepare students for pursuing a graduate degree. The main function of a bachelorâÄôs degree is to prepare students for the workforce outside the university environment. Of course, the bachelorâÄôs degree has changed over the years, and some now consider it the new associate degree.
Either way, students spend four years working hard toward a degree only hoping to spend another two to six years (or more) working on a graduate degree. Perhaps some students should reconsider the importance of a graduate education in their life path. I would never counsel students against a graduate degree if thatâÄôs where his or her passions lead and if his or her life path would benefit from it. However, students should consider all the factors before going to graduate school because, for some, itâÄôs just not worth the time, effort and money.
LetâÄôs consider some factors about graduate school that all students should think about. First, there is the issue of time. Graduate school is a long process of hoop jumping. They jump through the hoops of their coursework to make sure they satisfy degree and graduation requirements. It takes lots of time and patience to endure that process. If you can commit two to six years of your young adult life to sitting, teaching and laboring in a classroom before you even get the degree, then you might be ready.
Second, there is the amount of effort required. Graduate school is hard work and a stress-inducing experience. Undergraduate work is nothing in comparison to what graduate work will require. The demand and required perfection placed on work is like nothing students have probably ever experienced. TheyâÄôll be expected to write more than theyâÄôve ever written or even think they can write. Graduate students are expected to turn things in quickly and on time. Grammatical errors will generally not be acceptable. Graduate students work hard and feel like they did something great, but theyâÄôre treated as if they did little or no work. If you can handle this intense scrutiny, then you might be ready.
Third, the always important issue of money. Whether we like it or not, our society is dominated, driven, and defined by monetary value. These are normal side effects of a capitalist society, so it shouldnâÄôt surprise anyone. The main reason people go to graduate school is because they believe that it will give them greater marketability and opportunities to acquire monetary wealth. This is not always the case. The important thing to remember is that just because students go to graduate school doesnâÄôt guarantee that they will have a job waiting for them when they finish. In many cases, graduate students have the same chance of getting a job as many people with just a bachelorâÄôs degree. A graduate degree often guarantees nothing but the chance to use degree abbreviations after their name. ThatâÄôs it.
Moreover, if students decide to attend graduate school, then theyâÄôd better hope that they secure a coveted graduate assistant position. These positions relieve some of the pressure regarding tuition costs, but theyâÄôre hard to get. Even if graduate students get one, theyâÄôll still probably need to take out  loans to pay for other things like books, fees, insurance and living expenses beyond the small stipend they get from their assistantship. If youâÄôre ready to live in near poverty, then you might be ready.
I donâÄôt want to harp on the negative attributes of going to graduate school, but these are the realities of pursing a graduate education in the United States. These factors most certainly are not typical of every experience, but there are many parts that can be generalized. My experience in graduate school has been pleasurable, but I also understand the sacrifices I had to make to get where I am. I understand the uncertainty of the future with or without a graduate degree. I understand that there are too many people with graduate degrees, and those degrees are potentially becoming devalued. ThatâÄôs the reality.
I went to graduate school because what I want to do in my life requires me to do so. If youâÄôre considering graduate school, then you need to ask yourself if what you want to do with your life requires a graduate education and whether itâÄôs worth it. If you can handle the reality, then I say go to graduate school. But, donâÄôt say no one ever warned you about the realities of doing so.