For many students completing their undergraduate studies, graduate school is a very real option. The question of whether to attend or not to attend is one that has weighed heavily on the minds of university students for just about as long as there have been universities. It is a generally accepted rule that those who complete a professional masters program can expect to earn more in their careers than those with merely a baccalaureate degree. And for those interested in a career in academia, an academic masters program leads to a career in education at the doctorate level.

But there are practical matters students should bear in mind when considering whether or not to embark on a masters program. These considerations go beyond mere salary benefits and encompass a wide spectrum that involves the overall employment landscape as well as the focus of study. To this end, here are some things to keep in mind when considering hopping on that advanced-degree track.

CONSIDER THE WORKLOAD

Those interested in completing a masters program can count on 2-3 years of full-time coursework. In the beginning, students will have to complete required courses but over time, and depending on the particular field of study, many students will be able to focus on a particular area of interest. Those in science programs often have less of a choice as far as specialties are concerned, as these programs often involve lab and field work required by the department. It’s also important to bear in mind that students in a professional masters program often have to complete internships in addition to their regular course load.

EXPECT EXAMS

To complete a masters program the student must complete an exam, final project, or combination of the two. These final exams serve as a way for the student to display the cumulative knowledge gained over the course of the program in their particular field of study. Oftentimes a final project in a masters program will be a research-based thesis paper, not unlike a Ph.D. thesis.

THE OPTION OF COMBINED DEGREES

These days there’s no need for students to limit themselves to professional or academic programs. Plenty of universities are offering combined academic/professional masters programs that allow the students to study in both areas simultaneously. The goal was to not just allow for a more well-rounded post graduate education, but to make those with masters degrees more “in-demand” in the job market. For example, many students in an academic masters program oftentimes find difficulty obtaining a tenured professor position after graduate school. So the combined masters degree provides an extra set of marketable skills, which can ultimately give academic students an edge when trying to secure employment.

DON’T RUSH IN

There is no rule that says a student must enroll in masters program immediately after earning a baccalaureate degree. In fact, it’s generally accepted wisdom that students should wait a while after graduation before deciding whether or not to attend grad school. Spending time outside of college allows recent grads to fully weigh their options and spend some time out in the workforce, which can inform their decision of what to study should they eventually decide to enroll in a graduate program.

These are just a few things recent grads should consider regarding whether or not to go for that advanced degree. Above all, graduate school should never be the last resort of those unsure of what to do with themselves or their futures. A graduate degree takes years to earn, after all, and this time won’t be well spent if the student does not have an idea of what he or she would like to do with the degree once they obtain it.

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Adrian Grant

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