what is graduate school?

Is graduate school right for you?

Updated January 1, 2017 — My experience as a university professor and an academic advisor has taught me, time and time again, that a majority of students have serious misconceptions about what graduate school entails and at least some uncertainty about whether it is the right path for them.

If you are determined to pursue a Master’s or doctorate, you will have many important decisions to make and numerous essential steps to take in order to get into the right program for you. There are countless of sources of information related to grad school preparation. Any basic search on the topic will provide you with a countless list of grad school websites or so-called grad-school experts, both that provide rudimentary and very generic information and advice about how to apply to graduate school. Those sources and the limited insights they provide will not help you much with your preparation, or with putting together successful applications. In fact, following too closely the advice of  “experts” can be harmful to your chances of getting in. Not to mention that everyone else with whom you are competing will have the same generic information and limited insight into how it all works.

One of my primary aims with this blog is to give students who are thinking about graduate school deeper insights into how the process of getting accepted actually works. Once a prospective graduate student understands some of the important truths and widely-held misconceptions about graduate school, it is much easier to make good decisions and devise successful strategies.

I do not strive to glamorize graduate studies, nor to convince anyone to pursue a Master’s or doctorate degree. Going to graduate school or professional school following a bachelor’s degree is not a decision to be made taken lightly, and it is not the right path for everyone.

 

Undergraduate Research Experience: Not Only Valuable for Students Thinking of Graduate School

I was compelled to write today’s blog because I was discussing academic matters with a student this morning, and an issue came up that I just had to write about.

The student I was talking with is in a Psychology Honors program, but she wants to get out. She still wants to get her baccalaureate in Psychology, but she does not plan to go on to grad school, so she has decided that there is no point in doing the research thesis that is part of the Honors program. She just wants to graduate as a Psychology major, then go out and get some kind of job. She has no illusion about the unlikely chances of ever having a job in a psychology-related field — she knows you have to go on to grad school and get a Ph.D. to become a psychologist. She feels that she has been in school long enough, and its time to join the “real world.”

I certainly understand her position. Grad school is not for everyone; in fact, it really only makes sense for a small minority of people, whereas most college-educated folks are better off just entering the workforce (or trying to) after they get a bachelor’s degree. I have no doubt that the student I was speaking with this morning is making the right decision about not pursuing grad school after she finishes her undergraduate program.

But, she is dead wrong about one thing, at least. She’s wrong about the notion that undergraduate research experience is valuable only for those who are planning to go on to graduate school. In fact, I would argue that the benefits of a substantial undergraduate research experience (like that which comes from doing an Honors project and writing a thesis) are just as significant for those students who simply want to find a good job after college.

Why? Because most employers are not only interested in finding job applicants with a college education, they are most keenly interested in hiring applicants with certain abilities or talents, a good work ethic, and strong interpersonal skills. There is no better way for students to demonstrate that they have these qualities than by getting involved in the research being conducted by their professors. When a student carries out an undergraduate research project and writes a paper or report, it usually provides at least one professor a chance to evaluate the student’s work ethic, ability to work with others, ability to work independently, emotional stability and maturity, integrity, intelligence, personality, and other good qualities that employers are looking for in job applicants. Without significant undergraduate research experience, on the other hand, most students who graduate with their baccalaureate will finish college and begin looking for employment with no advantages over their peers. And one definitely needs advantages in the job market these days.