Categorized | Career, Education

A Higher Degree Can Open Doors to Many Opportunities.

Posted on 24 February 2009

So you’re thinking about graduate school? Returning to the classroom to earn a Master’s degree? Before you grab your letter jacket from the closet and dust off the old backpack, consider everything that comes with a return to higher learning. A Master’s is a serious commitment and a sacrifice of both time and money. It’s crucial to know if this is exactly what you want before you fork over two or three years of your life and thousands of dollars. A change of mind late in the game could be costly. Yet there’s no denying that a higher degree can open doors to many opportunities. Consider these thoughts as you ponder the future.

When to Go
There is one good reason to go back to school as soon as possible: It won’t be any easier once you’re older. People who have been out in the “real world” may go back to grad school, but they make big sacrifices: a decent salary, time with their spouse and children, and any semblance of freedom. You should go back when you have the least to give up, if you can. The flip side is that many business programs will not accept students without work experience. You’re likely to find that most schools actually suggest whetting your whistle in the workplace for at least a year prior to returning for an advanced degree. Talk to admissions advisors and see what each school requires and suggests.

And know what to expect. After busting your hump for four years as an undergrad, you’re now about to find yourself taking on an even bigger challenge. Teachers demand a lot of work from their grad students. If you can’t deliver, don’t expect to stay around too long. Gone are the days of that occasional afternoon class–which you probably missed half the time anyway. Your graduate schedule will be packed with class time, meetings, and study sessions. As one student told gradview.com: “First year, I was up at 7:00 a.m. and in class from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. I’d scarf down lunch in 10 minutes and begin a deep dive into my reading and homework. I would typically take a quick dinner break or work out, and then meet with my study group from about 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. The next day, I’d get up and do it all over again.”

Advanced education must be weighed against the real world experience you might gain during the same amount of time.

What You Gain, What You Give Up
Entering the professional world–or returning–with a Master’s degree can be a huge advantage. It says to employers that you are committed and serious about your career goals. It tells them you are prepared and competent. Employees with Master’s degrees usually command higher salaries and sometimes have access to jobs that ordinary college grads do not. But the sacrifices still may not be worth the effort. Extra years in school are years spent not making a decent income; you’re back to living like a starving college student. Advanced education has to be weighed against the real world experience you might gain during the same amount of time.

No Choice
While a Master’s degree is a luxury in most fields, in the legal and medical professions it’s required. Specialized industries demand specific education. The same goes for the admissions process to those schools. Lawyer wannabes will need to ace the LSAT, while those looking to play doctor must tackle the MCAT before going anywhere. Law students can expect to give up three years of their time, if attending school full time. Med school will demand at least four years–and many more if you plan to specialize.

For more information, hopeful medical students should check out the Association of American Medical Colleges at aamc.org. For the budding attorneys out there, check out the Law School Admission Council at lsac.org.

How to Get There
Almost every school will require some type of standardized test results before accepting you. Those pursuing degrees in the liberal arts need to take one of numerous Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). The GRE includes the General Test (which gives scores for verbal, quantitative, and analytical reasoning skills) and the Subject Tests, which cover 14 different areas of study. Each Subject Test is designed to evaluate students in the area they plan to study.

Depending on what your personal timetable is, check the dates for what tests are offered and register early. This will save you from paying any late fees or charges.

Business schools will need results from the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). It consists of a 75-minute verbal section (41 questions), a 75-minute quantitative section (37 questions), and two 30-minute analytical/essay-writing sections. The GMAT is designed to measure a student’s skills in areas needed to succeed in their first year. However, lower scores can also be balanced by work experience.

You can contact the Educational Testing Service (ets.org) for more information.

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