3 Questions to Ask Before Committing to Graduate School


Feb 23, 2023

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Everyone knows decisions surrounding educational commitments require time and consideration. Getting an undergraduate degree has become a modern expectation, with many assuming it’s a student’s responsibility to continue. Every avenue after is a different story. More significant financial burdens and time restrictions hit prospective graduate students, so what are the most revealing questions to ask before committing to graduate school?

1. What is the cost-benefit analysis?

If you aren’t from a business, marketing, or finance undergraduate degree, the concept of a cost-benefit analysis may have eluded you. A cost-benefit analysis forces people to assign dollar amounts to a benefit to see if an endeavor is worth seeking. Most of the time, concrete values are available. However, performing an analysis to decide to go to grad school may include valuable benefits that don’t have a monetary value.  

Begin by discovering the cost it would take to go to school. It may prove more complicated than searching a university’s website for tuition rates, especially if you intend to find alternative financing options outside of loans. Consider textbooks, room and board if necessary, and loan interest rates, among other hidden educational expenses. Once you have this number, you can continue.

Next, write down every benefit going to graduate school would net you. Here are some considerations:

  • Certain career advancement opportunities or raises.
  • A deeper understanding of a passionate topic only education could provide.
  • Networking opportunities only available in academia.
  • Access to research resources such as lab materials or technology you couldn’t obtain.

After brainstorming the benefits of your unique situation, it’s time to assign dollar values. An assured raise could inform a decision by covering the cost of a graduate degree several times over. But how do you set a dollar amount to knowledge? You can’t, so you’ll have to give estimates based on your values and priorities. 

Compare the value of the benefits against the true value of the cost of education. The disparities should guide you.

2. Am I romanticizing education, or am I ready to commit?

Depending on your undergraduate experience or how far removed you are from formalized education could skew your perception of what a graduate degree would entail. If you participated in countless clubs with meaningful social interactions residing on an undergraduate campus, these feelings could misinform how fun or enjoyable a remote graduate degree would be. 

Pick apart your associations with the educational experience and what influences informed those feelings. Unrealistic portrayals of academics in media can also unintentionally make viewers crave an educational experience. If you haven’t been involved in formal academia for a while, it might be easy to forget the sleepless nights and seemingly unending stress of studying for exams if you always got high scores. 

Take a moment to ask yourself how much you romanticize the graduate school experience. Then, consider how much it might uproot your current social schedule or monopolize free time for hobbies. Are these worth giving up for several years? Is the commitment worth juggling next to a full-time job or children you didn’t have when you were in your undergraduate degree?

Take time to be realistic with yourself and see the differences in your situation now versus the undergraduate experience. It may reveal unconscious biases or unrealistic expectations.

3. Is a graduate degree essential for achieving my long-term goals?

As you’ve discovered, most questions to ask before committing to graduate school require introspection. Graduate students must care about their field, and the passion for learning usually must usurp every other motivation to pursue higher education. The drive is critical for maintaining motivation and affirming your “why” behind attending.

Uncover what your objective is for attending graduate school. More importantly, does the want match with your most important goals for the future? 

It will require some foresight and possible planning, but it’s necessary to ensure the immediate decision to invest in school will matter in 10 or 35 years. Here are some common motivations that make students sink time into applications:

  • Notoriety in the field
  • Job or financial security
  • Emotional connections
  • Passion for learning

Finding the short-term “why” against the long-term objective will let you know if it’s a good decision. It could reveal you need to switch concentrations to align more closely with the future, or it might make you realize you don’t want to move to get a degree and remote schooling is better.

Considering the Whole Picture

Knowing the questions to ask before committing to graduate school forces aspiring students to learn more about themselves before learning more about their field. Finding these answers will make every other subsequent question answerable, such as knowing if it’s worth the money, the move, or going part-time. Regardless of what these questions help you understand about graduate school, every decision is the right decision so long as it is well-considered.

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