Grad School 101

Grad School 101: Should You Go to Graduate School?

Assalamualaikum,

I have a bunch of posts for Post-SPM 101 and Fresh Grad 101, as well as some Life Thoughts reflection posts here and there. But I thought that, hey, maybe I could do another series on Grad School 101. A couple of people have been asking me (since a year and a half ago, anyway) to write about my graduate school journey: what I was thinking / planning, what factors played a role in my graduate school options and all. So I figured, okay, why not start one?

As always, an obligatory note to remember: This is, after all, a personal blog by me. Whatever that is written here is based on my own personal experiences, and based on what I see / hear around me and my friends’ lives. It is, by no means, perfect, as everyone has different priorities and goals, so do take it with a pinch of salt.

So, graduate school. 

If you’re from a non-American education system, graduate school refers to anything beyond the normal undergraduate degree. It’s basically anything related to a postgraduate qualification that you get after you achieve your Bachelor’s degree. This includes Master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, as well as post-graduate certificates and diplomas.

In Malaysia, there has been a rise in the number of people who are pursuing a Master’s degree. Whether this is good or bad, that’s subjective and I don’t want to comment on it. I can’t say much anyway, because (1) I’m currently pursuing a Master’s degree myself, and (2) a lot of my friends are actually doing their Master’s too, so….

That aside, the question for today is …

Should you go to graduate school?

There are a lot of things to consider when you’re thinking about whether you should go to graduate school. For example:

Why do I want to go to graduate school?

Take a moment to reflect on yourself (and yes, if you read most of my posts, one of my favorite advice is to reflect on yourself first). Think about why you are considering to go to graduate school. What are your reasons? What’s the push vs pull factor? What is driving you to consider getting a Master’s degree?

Graduate school interview at University of Rochester, New York
Back in October 2016 when I was interviewing for my graduate school at the University of Rochester, NY

People go to graduate school for different reasons. Some go to graduate school because they can’t find a job, and therefore going back to school was their final option. Some people opt to pursue a Master’s degree to boost their employability and potential income/earnings. While other people may do it because they genuinely love studying / researching a specific topic. 

There are no right or wrong answer, because it all depends on you (unless, of course, the reason is because you’re scared to be an adult and work. In this case, I would tell you: JUST GO OUT THERE AND WORK).

But knowing the reason(s) behind why you’re thinking about going to graduate school is a good thing to do. This is especially important considering you’ll be spending at least one year in that program, if not more. So you better have a good enough reason to help you push through it all.

I have my reason(s) and they’re legit. Can I go to graduate school now?

Hold your horses people, chill. That was only the first thing you need to consider. The next thing you need to think about is…

Do you actually need a Master’s / postgraduate qualification for your desired career?

Not all careers will require you to have a Master’s degree or a postgraduate qualification. For most entry-level jobs, having an undergraduate degree is a good enough qualification. Depending on the industry you’re working in (or intend to work in), having a Master’s degree may or may not be useful for you. Mind you, if you’re planning to try and work in a different country, the requirements may differ as well.

For example, for me, if I were to find a job in Student Affairs in the US, I would most probably need a Master’s degree. But in Malaysia, I don’t need to have a Master’s degree, as it is not a specialized industry (as of yet).

So it’s best for you to figure out what you want to do with your life, the career(s) that you are considering, and see if they actually require you to have a Master’s degree. You can easily survey this by looking up various job advertisements (on Jobstreet, LinkedIn, Graduan, etc) and look at their requirements. 

Different requirements for different job advertisements on Jobstreet Malaysia

Typically, for an entry-level position, having an undergraduate degree is more than enough. If you’re intending to go further into management level, having a Master’s degree (especially an MBA) would be beneficial for you in the long run. If you’re intending to go into academia (to teach / do research), then you would most probably need a Master’s or a PhD.

Okay, so what’s next?

Once you’ve figured out if you actually need a Master’s / postgraduate qualification for the career(s) that you’re interested in, you need to think about…

Do you actually need that Master’s or postgraduate qualification now?

This is here because there are people who go straight into graduate school right after finishing their undergraduate studies. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Some people may figure out what they want early in their life, and have the capabilities and resources to do it early in their life.

But if you are (1) still not sure of what career(s) you want to pursue, (2) are unsure about how to fund your graduate school studies, or (3) not sure about where your life would take you, it is definitely OKAY to take a few gap years to figure life out.

Just because your friends are going for their Master’s right after graduating college, that doesn’t mean that you can’t choose to work and gain some experience first before going back to school. In some cases, having those experiences under your belt would actually be useful during your Master’s studies, especially if you’re looking to get an MBA. The plus point is – working for a few years can help you to save up money to actually pay for graduate school.

For example, right now, I’m probably the youngest in my Master’s classes. Some of them are at least 10-15 years older than me, and have had tons more experience working in the youth work field / community. For them, grasping the materials we covered in class was easier, just because they’ve seen first hand on how it works, and the real life applications of the theories.

Things to think about.

So if you’re thinking about whether or not you should go to graduate school, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Why do I want to go to graduate school?
  2. Do I actually need that Master’s / PhD qualification for what I want to do?
  3. Do I actually need it now, or can it wait a few years?

Sometimes, thinking about it on your own is not enough. It would also be beneficial for you to discuss it with other experienced people. Talk to your advisor in university. Discuss your options with your parents (and uncles/aunts, etc). Get some advice from your professors, especially if they themselves did similar programs. Learn from people who have been in your situation, and get their insights. Hopefully, by talking to different people, you’ll get a more well-rounded view on things.

In my next post, I’ll (try to) write about some of the factors that helped me to narrow down which graduate program to attend. My graduate school journey starting some time in mid-2016, a year or so before I graduated. It took me about 2 years of planning to actually begin the journey itself. 

But if you have other suggestions or thoughts, feel free to drop by the comment section! I’m more than happy to hear your comments, or to have you share your own experiences with other readers. You can also submit suggestions / requests for posts on my Ask.fm here, or ask whatever questions you have 🙂

Until next time, stay awesome! 🙂 

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