Is there ever a ‘RIGHT’ time for Grad School?

Grad School, Schmad School….right? Let’s all attend because it’s just an extension of your undergraduate education! I mean let’s face it, for the most part, my generation considers education as something you take up as a pastime until ‘you’re’ ready to enter the real-world of deadlines, low-pay, and kissing ass just to get to the next level. I, on the other hand, wanted to get a graduate degree because I was under-the-impression that I would be able to get a broader outlook on my field – marketing communications – since I didn’t feel like my undergraduate effectively prepared me for a successful career. Either I didn’t stay abreast on topics in higher education or my undergraduate institution didn’t equip me with the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision about graduate school.

During my undergraduate education I never thought about what ‘grad school’ actually meant, until recently. Last semester (Spring 2011), I received the McNair Scholarship – a scholarship put in place to honor Ronald E. McNair, an African American astronaut killed on the Challenger when it exploded.  This particular scholarship is for first-generation, low-income, minority students that express desire for pursuing higher education – specifically a Ph.D. At the time I applied, I knew I wanted to obtain a master’s so naturally I thought, “What’s the difference in taking it one step further and getting a Doctorate?’ My conception of the entire graduate school process and experience was off — way off. When we began the program as a Scholar, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into.  Everyday we walked into our 4-hour class over the summer, there was a new task put in front of us. Hey! I’m up for the challenge! <— That was my initial thoughts.  Then came the hard-hitting truth about grad school – it’s NOT an extension of your undergraduate education. As a matter of fact, unless you choose a professional master’s, it is COMPLETELY different from your undergraduate. Now, after the McNair Program has schooled me, graduate school is synonymous with research, research, research…and guess what? You guessed it! MORE research!

Now as time passes into the culmination of my undergraduate degree (done in December – YAY), I wonder….”Is it the ‘right’ time for me to go to grad school?” I’ve taken most of the steps in preparing for grad school and have had an invaluable experience that I otherwise wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for the McNair Scholarship.  But…am I really ready? Yes, I’ve taken the GRE. Yes, I’ve (almost) completed an independent research project – with the help & guidance of my wonderful mentor, Dr. Jensen Moore-Copple (who, by the way, has been my rock and biggest advocate thus far in college). Yes, I’ve attended a conference and will be presenting my research at a National McNair Conference at the University of Delaware. Yes, I’ve researched schools and have a good feel for what I should expect out of a top-tier program (Strategic Communications or something very similar). Still haven’t found one that says,”Hey, I’m the perfect fit.” BUT….am I REALLY ready to go to grad school? If there is one thing I’ve learned from anyone who has completed/is completing a master’s or Ph.D., it’s that you must be ready to give it everything you have.

I’m always up for a challenge; however, this time the challenge for me is deciding when the ‘right’ time to attend grad school is. I know I’ll get my master’s, as well as my Ph.D., because when I set my eyes on something, rest assured I will achieve it. Talking to Dr. Diana Martinelli, today confirmed my feelings about pursuing a graduate degree. “You’ll know when it’s time, trust your gut feeling.”  My gut feeling is currently telling me — I’m burnt out. I’ve been in school for 17 years. Yes, I said it 17 years!!! Hard to believe. I know that going to grad school is going to take every ounce of energy, perseverance, and determination that I have….and I’m willing to give it that and more. Just not right now…..

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One response

  1. Agreed – grad school is a different paradigm. It’s not your 9-5 get up, go to work, go home and forget about it. Its 24/7 for 2-3 years. And yep, its research driven. Oh, and you’re never “ready” for it. ;)

    But if you like research and you really want to get a deeper understanding of whatever subject you’re in, its awesome. The faculty treat you like colleagues, rather than as students. That’s the real difference. As an undergrad you get a broad survey of a whole discipline. Once you hit grad school you really start to find out how intricate whatever it is you’re studying is. And by the time you get to a PhD program, you’re not learning things, you’re learning how to learn. It’s an apprenticeship.

    Example: for my first PhD project, I had to learn some organic chemistry. Now I’ve never taken an organic chem class in my life. So the natural thing you’d say to do would be to put off the project until I can get an organic chem class. But you don’t always have that option… and you may not even get the particular bits of knowledge you need in a 200-level class. This makes the only real answer learning the subject material on your own. And that’s AWESOME.

    So the advice that I got about deciding whether or not grad school was right for me is this: If you have a particular topic you want to pursue or a particular person you want to work with, then go to grad school. If you have no idea what you want to do then you should probably wait. Unfortunately, you don’t get to meet lots of profs from different schools as an undergrad… so that makes option #2 harder to achieve. And don’t think that it has to be a now or never thing. Lots of people spend some time out in the workforce and then go to grad school. For me the topic was caves, and the school was kind of accidental (okay, the whole story is waaaay more complicated, but that’s another several stories).

    So yeah, it’s been a lot of work, and a lot of stress, and I’ve made sacrifices, but I personally wouldn’t give it up for the world. Because it’s been awesome and I know every day when I go there that it’s what I really want to do.

    Hope that helps :)

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