Three good reasons to go to graduate school (and one very bad reason)

It’s back-to-school time! To help you prepare, each Tuesday over the next few weeks, we’re featuring advice on finding, applying, and paying for graduate school. Want more information? Be sure to visit our Graduate School Resource Center and attend a free Grad School Fair near you!


Eager to go back to school? Be sure to think it through! (Photo Credit: Blue Square Thing, Creative Commons/Flickr)

With a new school year starting, many people are wondering if it’s time to consider an advanced degree. However, before you begin searching or applying, it’s important to assess your reasons for wanting to go to graduate school, as pursuing a graduate degree requires a significant investment of time and resources.

Among the best reasons to go to graduate school are:

  • It is necessary for your desired professional field such as healthcare, law, teaching, and social work to name a few
  • It can improve your career by increasing your responsibility and/or income earning potential
  • It can enhance your professional prospects, whether you are switching careers or simply want greater flexibility and options

Because of the investment required, we also want to highlight a potentially bad reason to go to graduate school: you’re avoiding a problem. Whether the problem is professional (you can’t find a job or don’t like the one you have) or personal (you don’t know what to do with your life or are facing financial difficulties), the amount of money and time required to finish graduate school will likely exacerbate these problems or lead you to make hasty decisions.

Are you considering grad school? Tell us what you think!

Still wondering if grad school is for you? Attend a free Idealist Grad Fair! We’re visiting 17 cities across the U.S. this fall.

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Summer to-do list for grad students-to-be

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.

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Two of our favorite recruiters at the Idealist Grad Fair in DC last Thursday. (Photo: Julia Smith)

As summer gets underway, and our summer grad fair tour comes to an end (shameless plug: tonight only, 5-8 pm, at Roosevelt University in Chicago), future grad students can turn their energies toward getting ready for fall classes. Here are some things to think about:

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From Alamosbasement on Flickr

Visit campus (again)

Since campus is relatively quiet, summer can be an ideal time for a first or second campus visit. While you may not have as many courses to choose from to observe, you will benefit from the slower pace of office life and more quality time with staff and faculty.

In addition to the campus tour, and financial aid and department office visits, you might take the time to orient yourself to the library (home away from home for many in grad school), and take a current student or two out for coffee to get the inside scoop on professors, funding, and coursework.

Read more about visiting campus in our Grad School Resource Center.

Get the inside scoop on financial aid and scholarships

Use your campus visit to meet with your financial aid office, if you haven’t already, to make sure you are making the best choices regarding your student loans, and so that you can get the skinny on scholarships. While you should have been looking for scholarships all along, it’s never too late to search for funding for next year and experts in the financial aid office or your department’s office should have some pointers for you. If you haven’t already put your name in the hat for a graduate assistantship in your department or another, this is a good time to do so.

Read more about funding your graduate education in our Grad School Resource Center.

Take pre-requisite classes

From T.Young on Flickr

Finally, use the summer to take care of pre-requisite courses you need to complete before you can bite into your graduate-level work.

If you are required to take a class before you can enroll, find out if the school has specific restrictions about where you can take the class. Ask the admissions office for course approval before you pay for it and take it. Also find out if you need to earn a minimum grade in the class for it to count.

If you are deficient in a foreign language, or another skill that will take a longer time to master, talk with the admissions office about your options. Your best bet may be to wait another year before applying.

Finally, if you are not starting school this fall, check out this 12-month to-do list for prospective grad students.

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What should you learn in grad school?

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.

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From Flickr user killfile (Creative Commons)

People debating whether or not to go back to school for a master’s degree — or debating when is the best time to do so — may appreciate a new framework for understanding the qualifications a master’s degree student should have upon graduating.

And current students may find the framework helpful in talking about the impact of their education with potential employers.

Recently the Lumina Foundation for Education published The Degree Qualifications Profile to describe the intellectual, civic, knowledge, and applied-learning outcomes students should demonstrate by the end of the associate, bachelor’s and master’s levels of schooling.

The idea of the project isn’t to comprehensively define what each field of study needs to include in its curriculum by any means. But it does offer some useful distinctions that highlight the relative complexity of training that, according to the authors, should signify a master’s degree versus a bachelor’s.

For example, in one category of learning, civic learning, a student at the bachelor’s level should (among other things) be able to develop and justify “a position on a public issue” and relate their position “to alternative views within the community/policy environment.” Meanwhile, a master’s student should assess and develop “a position on a public policy question with significance in the student’s own field, taking into account both scholarship and published positions and narratives of relevant interest groups.”

Other stated benefits of the Degree Profile for future and current students could include:

  • Offering a road map for navigating higher education options by giving students a framework for their educational plan if it’s not already determined for them.
  • Giving students a yardstick against which to measure their growth in “crosscutting competencies” or transferable skills – abilities that students can rely on regardless of changing careers or industries.

While the Degree Profile is non-binding, a few regional accrediting bodies and school associations have agreed to test the framework which will help flesh out the details of the document (by bringing critical feedback as well as examples).

In the meantime, I am going to share the framework with classmates in my grad school cohort. We’re developing portfolios right now and the outcomes detailed in the Profile may prove valuable categories for sharing our skills and abilities, even if our program wasn’t designed with these outcomes in mind.

To learn more about grad school, explore Idealist’s Grad School Resource Center.

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Students: Social Innovation Competition is a chance to win cash

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Shining Hope, winner of the 2010 competition

Applications for Dell’s Social Innovation Competition are due February 14th. In conjunction with the University of Texas at Austin, Dell is giving away more than $100,000 in cash prizes to university (undergraduate and graduate) students from around the world with fresh ideas to solve social or environmental problems.

What’s great about this project is that Dell and UT are encouraging students to submit their ideas no matter where they are in the process. If your idea doesn’t include a business plan and you don’t quite know how to scale it or make it financially viable yet, don’t despair. You won’t win first place but you could be one of 30 students selected to receive mentoring and support to improve your idea’s chances of future success.

If you’re not a student, you can browse and vote up others’ ideas here. Be sure to check out the dates, deadlines and official rules over at the Dell Social Innovation website.

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Giant win: peanuts, crackerjacks, and grad school

When we scheduled our season of graduate degree fairs many months ago, we planned our stop in San Francisco for November 1. Who knew that the Giants would also be cruising to victory in Game Five of the World Series last night?

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From Gary Stevens (Creative Commons)

Luckily, Idealists are nothing if not multitaskers. 600 fans streamed into the Hall of Flowers, scrawled name tags in orange marker (“Giants pride!”), and talked with representatives from 116 degree programs while root-root-rooting for the home team. At one point, the entire Hall of Flowers erupted in applause as cars honked outside in celebration.

We have just two fairs left this season: one tonight in Los Angeles, CA, and one this Thursday in Atlanta, GA. There’s no telling if they’ll be quite as eventful (though with tonight’s election returns, you never know). But I hope they are festive and that if you go, you connect with the school of your dreams.

And if you see Chris Machuca, the manager of the grad fairs, give him a wave. He’s wrapping up quite a season himself, having run events in 16 cities over the past three months. Home run, Chris.

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Graduate Degree Spotlight: Public Health

By Flickr user Ton Rulkens (Creative Commons)

If you visit our site often, you probably know that we run a series of graduate degree fairs every year. The idea is to bring together prospective students with representatives from all sorts of graduate programs whose graduates go on to serve the public good.

To complement the fairs (or to supplement them, for those who can’t make it in person), we have created a series of “degree overviews” — snapshots of several types of graduate programs you may be considering.

Today we’re spotlighting our public health degree overview. Public health is a multidisciplinary field that spans areas from maternal and child health to global health and health education, and encompasses a half dozen other specializations in between. This broad field focuses on improving the health of people and communities through research into illness and injury prevention and through efforts to promote healthy lifestyles and habits.

As a graduate student of public health, you will learn about the issues that affect population health and how to address and prevent the health problems that arise within a community. The flexibility of this field also allows for some interesting and surprising degree combinations: have you ever thought of a public policy and dentistry dual degree? Or public policy and occupational therapy? The possibilities abound.

To read more, or to access our full downloadable overview, click here.

We’re also getting excited about our graduate fairs in the United States (and in Toronto, Canada!) this fall. New York is first up, on September 16. Learn more about our fairs here, and mark your calendars now!

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Graduate Degree Spotlight: Nonprofit Management

If you visit our site often, you probably know that we run a series of graduate degree fairs every year — and the 2010 series kicks off this week! The idea is to bring together prospective students with representatives from all sorts of graduate programs whose graduates go on to serve the public good.

To complement the fairs (or to supplement them, for those who can’t make it in person), we have created a series of “degree overviews” — snapshots of several types of graduate programs you may be considering.

Today we’re spotlighting our nonprofit management degree overview. While nonprofit organizations can differ wildly in the communities they serve and the people they engage with, they have a few basic characteristics in common. Nonprofit organizations all work towards a mission, whether broad (“abolish world hunger”) or narrow (“improve community resources in our neighborhood’), that serves the common good. Nonprofits also all have managers behind the scenes making this good work possible. Nonprofit management degree programs educate future nonprofit leaders in general operations, human resources, strategies, and fund development, amongst other skills essential to making a nonprofit run effectively and efficiently.

To learn more about nonprofit management, click here.

Better yet, if you are in New York City or Washington, DC, come visit us at our upcoming fairs this week! We will be in NYC tomorrow, June 15, and in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. Click here for more information on our grad fairs.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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