How to Tell if a Graduate School Is Meant for You

Deciding you’re ready for graduate school is a huge step toward continuing your education and advancing your career. Maybe you’ve been on a strategic career path since fifth grade, and your window for applying to graduate school is quickly approaching. Or, you could be eager to start a new career in a new field and with a new degree. No matter your unique story, determining what graduate school best fits your life can be tricky. We are here to help you answer some foundational questions so you can move your career forward with confidence and clarity.

  1. Pick a program. This step can seem simple on paper and hard in practice. For instance, if you’re considering becoming a high school guidance counselor, you could pursue your master’s in counseling, social work, or education. General research can be extremely helpful as you consider your experience, dreams, and interests. Try to connect with a real-life guidance counselor to hear their story and ask their advice. If you’re already sure on your graduate school, ask to meet with professors from different programs to help picture what might fit you best. Bottom line: there are no wrong answers. You’re on an educational journey, after all. If you had already arrived, you wouldn’t be reading this anyway.
  2. Do your research. Make sure you know all the program’s prerequisites before you apply. Schedule and study for any entrance exams—like the GRE, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT —with enough time to take it again for a competitive application. Explore what classes or experience is necessary to include on your application or transcripts. Prepare your portfolio if you’re considering pursuing your Master of Fine Arts and peruse the course offerings to ensure they offer what you hope to study. Determine which schools have the best connections for internships or clinical opportunities that fit your goals.
  3. Assess your life. Take five minutes or three hours to examine your life just as it is—no judgment or ideals here. Are you a senior just finishing your undergraduate degree? Are you a new grandmother who wants to explore nurse-midwifery? Are you a single dad who has a little more time to himself with his kids in high school? Your story and stage in life can help determine if an online or face-to-face program would be better for your schedule. If you’re looking to move across the country, graduate school might be the perfect opportunity. If you work overnights, classes at three p.m. might prove to be the bane of your existence.
  4. Honor your values. What’s most important to you? While it’s beneficial to stretch your worldview, if you disagree with an institution’s stance on the ideas or values you hold most dear, that might not be the place for you. If you’re considering a degree in ministry, make sure your beliefs align with a university’s statement of faith. If you’re looking for a counseling degree rooted solely in scientific study, don’t apply to seminary and vice versa.
  5. Search for support. In this case, support is whatever you deem best. If you’re on the way to medical school, academic support might be most beneficial to you. If you have a learning disability, what schools offer the best accommodations? How can staff and faculty partner with you to make sure you receive the support you deserve? Maybe it was hard to find a job after finishing your undergraduate degree, and career support is important to you. If you’re a single parent hoping to invest in your community, what opportunities does the university offer to connect with classmates outside of the classroom?

While there are one thousand more questions you can ask yourself and the supportive people in your life, these five areas of examination offer a beneficial place to start. Remember, this is your life. Your dreams. Your goals. Your career. Your time. You get to decide what comes next, and we’re thrilled you’re considering graduate school as part of your story.

Katie Johnson works for Bethel University’s (MN) Office of Marketing and Communications as a content specialist. You can usually find her brainstorming storytelling strategies with her colleagues and playing with puns for social media posts. She loves adventuring with her dog, Frodo, and keeping up with the Pittsburgh Steelers.