It’s not too early to start training for next year’s application marathon. If you’re considering a master’s or PhD program, you can reduce stress later by putting in some serious mind work up front– now, before you start the actual application process.
The first question you need to ask, and it’s a big one, is, “Is this degree for me?”
We’ve posted some discussion recently about the advisability of grad school in the Humanities; that’s not a topic we’ll get into here (though one of the factors you’ll probably want to take into account, if you propose to be a professor, is the health of the academic job market in your chosen field).
How can you evaluate whether a degree program is for you? First, ask yourself why you want to go to grad school. Is it because you need a particular credential to pursue (or advance in) your chosen career? Because you envision a career in research (whether in academia or industry) and this program is the way to gain those advanced skills? Or is it because you’ve been in school all along and aren’t sure what else to do? Because this simply feels like the “next step” you ought to take? Can you think ahead to your longer term goals? Be honest with yourself, and if your reasons for pursuing advanced study don’t ultimately seem compelling—in other words, if graduate study would just be a time-filler or a way of putting off thinking about your goals, you might want to rethink.
Now is also the time to make an honest evaluation of your credentials and preparation. Do you have the training you need to begin a grad program in your field, or will you need to shore up your skills in certain areas (such as languages or statistics) before applying?
As for deciding whether to pursue a PhD versus a master’s degree: are you the kind of person who thrives in the environment you’ll likely encounter in a PhD program? That is, do you enjoy research, and do you work well on your own? Are you organized and self-motivated? Are you prepared for the number of years that PhD study entails? Do your long-term goals require a PhD?
Next time, I’ll discuss how to focus your school-search– what makes a program right for you?
By Dr. Rebecca Blustein, author of Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School, Rebecca is available to help you write clear essays and personal statements that communicate and persuade.