If you’re deciding if and when to go to grad school, there are several factors for you to consider, particularly during a pandemic. Ask the following questions to help determine what route is best for you.

Throwing caps in the air

What are your career goals?

The most important question is whether graduate school is necessary for your career. To figure this out, try to conduct informational interviews with people who hold positions you’re drawn to and make an appointment with someone in your career center for additional guidance.

If you do find out that graduate school helps you land your dream job or advance your career, you’ll still need to determine when to go. Some industries, like technology, government, and pharmaceuticals, prefer a candidate who has some work experience in addition to a master's degree (which some employees earn on the side while working full-time). For other jobs that require a PhD or which are in academia, check out available job openings and programs with strong tenure-track placement history and see whether field experience makes you a more competitive candidate. Before you invest time into your application (and years in an advanced degree program!), you’ll want to know you’ve taken all the appropriate steps for success.

Are there programs structured in your preferred format?

Do you want to work while earning a graduate degree? Do you prefer to attend class online, in-person, or maybe a little bit of both? These are important questions even in a post-pandemic world! Having the flexibility to switch between part-time or full-time during different semesters may mean you can take an entry level job in your field while working towards a degree (and a promotion).

Unfortunately, the pandemic has shown that none of us can predict how graduate programs may adjust their structure. You can, however, research how they’ve handled the situation thus far. Talk to admissions officers about what changes have been made and interview current students about how their experience has been. Some conversation starters that can offer you important insight include:

For admission officers…

  • How have admission requirements (like standardized tests) changed?
  • Have required in-person experiences like internships or job shadowing been adapted or dropped from the program?
  • Has financial aid or program costs been impacted by COVID-19?

For current students…

  • How do you feel about your program’s ability to adapt to the challenges of remote learning?
  • What resources are available to students to help them succeed at online learning?
  • Do you feel that you are still learning the skills necessary to succeed in your future career?

What else do you have going on in your life?

You likely have other responsibilities and goals beyond completing graduate school. Whether you need to support your parents, or you want to start a family or move to a different city, you should seriously consider whether you want to do both at the same time. Graduate school and, well, life , can be challenging and stressful. It’s certainly possible to do both, but it’s up to you to decide how you want to spend your time, money, and mental energy. What worked for one person may not be right for you. That’s why it’s important to trust your gut and thoroughly research programs that are compatible with your specific situation.

Ultimately, if you decide going to graduate school is right for you, the best time to go is when you feel you can be most successful. As you consider your career and life goals, financial health, and the challenges brought on by COVID-19, be honest with what will best serve you. Graduate school is a long road, so be sure that you have a map to follow for the journey. For more updates on admissions during COVID-19 and study tips and tricks, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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