For adults with bachelor degrees, earning a graduate degree may be the right step for you. In the ever-changing job market, the thriving employees seem to be those with advanced degrees – Americans with a graduate degree earn an average of 35-50% more than those with a bachelor’s degree. This may be one reason that more students are applying to graduate schools than ever before
Attending graduate school is as difficult as a real job and can often be more demanding and time-consuming. Plus, having a graduate degree does not necessarily guarantee you the career or salary of your choice. For this reason, it important to understand that graduate school is one-part education, one-part work, and one-part networking. These three distinct categories will round out your life as a graduate student. So why did over a million US students enter graduate programs last year?
Career Change – Some people decide to make a career change after having been in the work force for some time. You may find that your interests have changed and that additional schooling is required in order to transition into your new chosen career field.
Career/Salary Advancement – The upper level positions in your current field may not be open to individuals with only a bachelor’s degree.
Teaching – You may want to teach a class. A master’s degree is required of community college instructors and increasingly required of high school teachers especially for subjects requiring highly qualified status. To become a professor at a four-year college or university, a doctorate is required.
Professional Licensing – Social workers, therapists, psychologists, and others who directly treat or counsel patients generally need a graduate education to meet state and national licensing requirements.
Life-Long Learning – If you love to learn and have the desire to enhance your knowledge in a particular area of study, that’s a wonderful reason to pursue graduate study!
The Job Market – A slow economy and resulting trouble finding a job is a major reason that many choose to pursue a graduate degree. Keep in mind that many careers rumored to have more opportunities in the near future may not experience any change, so be sure to do your research and speak with people who are currently employed in the field that interests you.
You will often hear that graduate school is more than just taking classes and writing papers. A master’s or doctorate degree is considered preparation for your future career, but you often need more than just the degree to land a job. Throughout your career as a graduate student, you will be surrounded by professors, alumni, professionals in your field, and university workers with whom you will create connections and relationships. Ultimately, this network will be a community of contacts that are willing and able to help you advance professionally. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reports that, “60-80 percent of jobs are obtained through networking,” so be sure to practice your networking skills while in graduate school.
There is a common misunderstanding that networking involves meeting as many new people as you can or collecting as many numbers and business cards as possible. Not only is this ineffective, but this completely undermines the point of networking. The best way to go about networking is to develop strong relationships. People are more likely to help those who they have good relationships with, especially those who have helped them out in the past. In the working world, a lot of your success comes from who you know.
So, how do you network? Follow these tips to build and grow your network while in graduate school.
Get involved and take chances to create relationships with classmates and professors inside and outside the classroom. Be on the lookout for university events that align with your interests, both professionally and personally. Consider joining an organization on campus with people who share similar interests and philosophies. The connections you make with your peers and advisors are equally as important as relationships with professionals in your field; you never know who will hear of a job or opportunity that would be a good fit for you! If you’re an online student and do not live near your university’s campus, consider looking into online communities. Does your university have platforms for online student engagement? Many online universities offer clubs and organizations you can join, while not being there in person.
Reach out to your professors. Professors are a tremendous resource because they not only provide industry-specific expertise, but they also have a network of professionals at their fingertips. Make an effort to get to know each professor, either during office hours or over coffee. If professors know you and your goals, they are more likely to keep you in mind if they hear of opportunities for internships and job openings that match your interests and strengths.
Set up informational interviews. Work with your university’s career services office and find alumni working in your field. Alumni want to help students attending their alma mater and by having an immediate shared background, the conversation is easier to begin. Informational interviews not only help you learn about the field which you will enter, but also let you build a relationship with the person you interview. Your interviewee will also have a wide range of contacts in their network and will likely be happy to make introductions to others in your desired field.
Use social media. In today's world of social networking, there are several networking tools at your fingertips. Sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter allow users to stay connected and share information with hundreds of people in an instant and are a great resource for anyone trying to build a networking community or connect with colleagues. LinkedIn is a popular networking tool and many career service professionals will suggest students create an account; like an online resume, LinkedIn allows members to search for people based on work experience and interests. Facebook and Twitter have a more social aspect to them, but they do allow people to connect based upon interests. Although Facebook and Twitter are used largely for personal purposes, consider searching for groups and pages that connect people around a cause, business, or brand. These groups and pages bring hundreds of people together and you never know who you will meet!
Be authentic. Instead of attempting to meet everyone possible, concentrate on a few individuals and show sincere interest in your conversations—be authentic! Remember, you should be focusing on developing relationships, not collecting business cards. By actively engaging in conversations, you will show the other party that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. Whenever you have the ability to help a contact, offer your help and then make sure to follow through. When the time comes and you need assistance, contacts will be much more willing to offer their support and resources.
Stay in touch. Once you’ve started to build your network, try to stay current with those you’ve met. By staying in touch, you are keeping your name in their mind for any opportunities they might hear about or find. Ask for advice, resources, and mentorship and don’t feel afraid to ask for help!
New Hampshire has several young professional associations. These associations provide professional and personal development opportunities for young workers. Recent grads are always welcome to attend special events and network with other like-minded young professionals. Learn more about the professional associations in your area by visiting Stay Work Play – a statewide, independent marketing effort promoting what New Hampshire offers the 20 and 30 year-old demographic.
Currently, Stay Work Play lists website links for 14 young professionals’ networks in New Hampshire:
Another opportunity for young professionals in New Hampshire is the Granite United Way’s Emerging Leaders Society (ELS). This group is specifically designed for up-and-coming leaders of the community, ages 40 and under, and it provides a variety of social networking, volunteer, and professional development opportunities.
In job interviews, you will likely hear some version of this question: “Congratulations on your graduate degree, that is an incredible achievement. What real-world experience do you have that supports your degree?” Internships and summer jobs in your field are the best way to apply what you have learned in the classroom to what you will do as a professional in the field. Graduate internships and summer work also allow you to network and build a relationship with a potential mentor.
Generally speaking, an internship is a short-term learning experience that will help you develop hands-on work experience in a certain occupational field. As a graduate student, internship experiences tend to be more involved than internships you may have experienced as an undergraduate. Know that the tasks you receive will align with the work of full-time employees and the lines between intern and employee can become blurry. To avoid this, be sure to be communicative with your mentors, supervisors, and advisors by asking for help, advice, and clarity; transparency is key.
Ready to look for internships that complement your graduate work? Tap in to your network of professors, advisors, and the career services office on your campus. We also recommend going to the websites of organizations for whom you would like to work; many organizations will have their internship opportunities listed under their “career” or “work with us” pages.
Another opportunity for the summer may be volunteering. A little less structured than an internship, volunteering is working for a particular cause without payment for your time and service. This might be helping out at your animal rescue shelter, preparing food at a food pantry or soup kitchen, or reading to the elderly at a nursing home. Volunteering illustrates your involvement in your community and also offers you a great way of seeing different careers and environments. Whether you are interested in computer programming, graphic design, counseling or animal services, you can find a volunteer opportunity available for you at volunteernh.org.
Another great benefit of both internships and volunteering is networking. The opportunity to meet with various people is a wonderful way to build your network of people who may assist you as you not only apply for college, but look for employment opportunities down the road. When looking for an internship or volunteer opportunity, it is important to use all of your resources. Ask school counselors, teachers, family members, coaches and friends if they know of anything available. Whatever your goal, maximize your summer vacation time and make it work for you!
AmeriCorps is a National Service program that provides citizens with the opportunity to make a big difference in your life and the lives of others by applying skills and ideals toward helping others and meeting critical needs in the community.
Each year, AmeriCorps offers 75,000 opportunities for citizens of all ages and backgrounds to serve through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups. Whether your service makes a community safer, gives a child a second chance, or helps protect the environment, you’ll be getting things done through AmeriCorps!
AmeriCorps members address critical needs in communities all across America. As an AmeriCorps member, you can:
As an AmeriCorps member, you’ll gain new skills and experiences – and you’ll also find the tremendous satisfaction that comes from helping others. In addition, full-time members who complete their service earn a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. The amount of a full-time education award is equivalent to the maximum value of the Pell Grant for the award year in which the term of national service is approved. After completing your service you can use this award to pay for college, graduate school, or to pay back qualified student loans. Members who serve part-time receive a partial award. Some AmeriCorps members may also receive a modest living allowance during their term of service.
There are thousands of opportunities to serve in AmeriCorps. Each one provides an incredible opportunity to make a difference in your life and in the lives of those around you. To search for an AmeriCorps national service opportunity that fits your interests and desired location, click here. Applications for any position can also be submitted online – all you have to do is create a user profile.
Resources to learn more about AmeriCorps:
The idea of work-life balance can seem elusive and hard to achieve for many graduate students, which is probably why a google search with the keywords, “graduate school work-life balance,” brings 18 million articles and websites. To realize success as a graduate student, it is important to consider how you plan to manage your coursework with life responsibilities.
The life of a graduate and undergraduate student look very different, largely because graduate students have more responsibilities than traditional-aged undergraduate students. As an adult graduate student, you likely have family and work responsibilities which you must manage along with your coursework and internships or assistantships. It can be overwhelming to be pulled in several directions by work, friends, and family, which is why we suggest these tips to manage graduate school and outside responsibilities:
Once upon a time, people finished education early because most of life’s learning came “on the job”. On the job training is still important, but today there is a need for more sophisticated academic learning just to get an opportunity to learn on the job. As technology becomes more advanced and as the interrelation of bodies of knowledge becomes more complex, individuals must be able to use their training in as many ways as possible. It is imperative to be adaptable.
It has been said that the average person will have several careers during his/her adult life. However you define a career, whether as a series of related positions or an entirely new direction, you can expect a lot of change. There is no question that we have to be more mobile than ever before. Few of us live in the same town or same state that we grew up in. Even if we do live close to our roots, change takes place around us and we have to be prepared to move with it. Being able to take advantage of the best opportunity means being ready to move to a new setting with confidence and ambition. Graduate school is a vehicle to greater mobility.
Specialization is power. In addition to possessing 21st century skills, the student with specialized knowledge or training will automatically be more valuable in the workplace. Specialization allows a student to build a niché that will be valued and utilized by others in the organization.
Graduate school puts you in the position to gain more skills. No matter what your initial degree or training program, graduate school allows you to build skills that transcend those you acquired in a more basic setting. In building skills, you set yourself apart and will bring training and ability to the workplace that will be immediately valued at a higher level and will allow you to become productive sooner by applying new learning.
Your investment of time and money in graduate school not only generates knowledge and money, it proves something about you. You have applied your time and talent, and have invested money and personal resources. In doing so, you display motivation and ambition that will be important characteristics as people decide whether or not to hire you. Your work in graduate school will display your willingness to challenge yourself, to develop and to take risks to earn success. Those are important qualities in any potential employee.
When choosing a graduate program, there are many factors to consider: for example, you can choose whether to go part-time or full-time, or whether to limit your search by location or cost. You should ask yourself the questions below to help you determine the best course of action.
Why do I want to go to graduate school?
Graduate school is an investment in both time and money. If you are considering graduate school, make sure that it is the wisest and most responsible option for you at this time. Before applying, ask yourself these questions: (1) What degree do I want to earn? (2) How will I pay? (3) Do I have enough time to invest in a graduate degree? (4) Do I have support from family and close friends? (5) Do I enjoy this degree’s subject and coursework? (6) Will this degree help me achieve career goals or advancement?
If you can answer the majority of these questions with certainty, then graduate school is a great option for you! If you find yourself unable to confidently answer many of these questions, then ask yourself, “why am I considering graduate school?” Common answers are “I need a job” and “I’m looking to explore my options and see if this subject area is what I want professionally.” Let’s first visit the job attainment argument: some students feel that they need a graduate degree to get a job. Although that’s a fair reason to go to graduate school and there are many professions that demand a graduate degree, there are also many careers that do not. Do your research and see what your return on investment will be if you attend graduate school. Does having an advanced degree set you apart when it comes time for an employer to decide who is most qualified for additional responsibility and compensation? In some settings, salary and promotion are directly related to advanced training. If the above is true for your chosen field, then a graduate degree is a significant investment in your own future. If not, there are other ways to enhance your professionalism. On the other hand, graduate school is not a wise option if you are exploring your interests or unsure of what your next move will be. A graduate program is not like a bachelor’s degree: it specific and designed to help students reach career or academic advancement. If you are uncertain about your future career or where you see yourself working and succeeding, take time to have a clear answer before investing in graduate school.
What is my timeframe?
One of the first questions the prospective graduate student has to ask is: “how much time do I have to devote to this graduate school?” You may be able to attend full-time, or you may need to go part-time in order to earn money or to meet other commitments. Determining your timeframe can help to sort out many aspects of how you will pursue your graduate degree. A master’s degree will usually take two years depending on the field and writing requirements. A PhD can take three years or more depending on the dissertation. A full-time law student will attend three years of law school, while a part-time student can obtain a degree in four or more years.
Where do I learn best: on campus or online?
The digital age has brought significant change to higher education and student life. Online graduate programs are a great option for students who are self-motivated, career-ready, and cost-conscious. These programs allow students to be flexible with their schedule – although all students in one program will take the same courses, not all students will be in the virtual classroom at the same. Completing your coursework when it works for you is an attractive characteristic of online graduate programs, especially for students with full-time jobs and outside commitments. When looking at online programs, be sure to ask admission representatives and department chairs if there is required on campus time—some programs require students to visit campus once per semester or once per month.
Does my present circumstance provide a secure foundation for pursuing a graduate degree?
Some individuals wait for the “perfect” time to return to school. Sometimes the “perfect” time never comes. You’ll always be balancing obligations, but it is important to position yourself for a successful experience. School location, support of family, availability for travel, study time, and work commitments are incredibly important considerations. These issues challenge you to explore the balance between your life circumstances, funding options, time, and money as you go forward with your plans to find the best graduate school possible for you. It is important to note that there are hundreds of fine programs. Often, what makes a program “best” is how it works for you.
Will other people be impacted by my choice?
Others may well be impacted by your choice. Whether it is leaving professional colleagues or family members, others may have concerns as you pursue your degree. You need to determine ahead of time if that will have any detrimental effect or be a significant component as you choose your program. During challenging times, encouragement and support from others may be crucial.
Graduate degree programs (meaning anything after a bachelor’s degree) offer advanced instruction in one subject area. While an undergraduate degree introduces you to a variety of subjects along with your major, a graduate degree focuses solely on one academic discipline.
Graduate programs are split into two distinct degrees: the master’s and the doctorate. A master’s degree, either in a professional or academic field, typically requires one to three years of study and demonstrates mastery of coursework in a specific subject area.
Doctoral programs can also be either professional or academic, but take more time to complete—roughly three to eight years. Before pursuing a doctorate, you must have earned a master’s degree, but many universities offer dual master and doctorate programs.
So which program is best for you? To answer this question, it is best to do some research on your chosen career. If your dream job is to become a psychologist or a university professor, you will need to pursue a doctorate. If you want to pursue a career in library sciences or occupational therapy, you will need to earn a master’s degree. Look through job listings for your selected career path and read the education requirements. What does this job require? Will you need a master’s or a PhD? Also consider reaching out to individual departments and setting up an informational phone call to learn about their program.
Graduate school standardized tests are designed to test general knowledge, reasoning skills, and ability to communicate. Some exams will often also ask for specialized knowledge pertaining to a field. An exam’s score can be a crucial component in the evaluation of an application. Testing is not the be-all and end-all of admission, but it can be a more important consideration at the graduate level than it was for undergraduate admissions.
GRE Graduate Record Examination
GMAT Graduate Management Admission Test
LSAT Law School Admission Test
MCAT Medical College Admission Test
What is the Personal Statement?
The Personal Statement is the graduate school version of an undergraduate college admission essay. Almost all graduate applications have a required Statement in some form. While your grades and test scores are very important, the Statement provides the admission committee a chance to personally distinguish you from other applicants and the opportunity to see you as a person instead of as a number and a statistic. All things being equal, your Statement may be the deciding factor in whether you are accepted or denied admission as it reveals a great deal about your ability to write and communicate a unique perspective in an engaging way. And, it is one aspect you still have influence over at this stage in the process. The personal statement varies by institution. It can either be general – giving you freedom in terms of what you write – or it can ask specific questions. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions, while medical or law school applications often ask you to address your motivation or qualifications in more general terms.
Content. The majority of schools will ask you to explain why you want to study in the program, how you became interested, and how your previous academic work has prepared you for your graduate studies.
Writing. As you write your Statement, remember that how you communicate is just as important as what you communicate. When we read a book, we can hear the author’s “voice.” The same should be true in your statement. The reader expects a polished piece of writing in your unique voice. Write a preliminary outline, make a first draft, redraft, edit your drafts, and have someone else review your writing. Continue to revise until you have a version you are proud to submit.
Attitude. Attitude is revealed through the combination of content, writing, and style. The Statement ultimately shows your passion for your studies, confidence in your ability to succeed, and pride in your accomplishments. Your style will help demonstrate that you will be a valuable and productive student in a particular program.
How Do I Write a Personal Statement?
How you structure and organize your essay can determine your fate. With a well-structured essay, the reader will not only be interested in the content of your essay, but will also know you have the capacity to create a legible essay – and thereby think clearly and logically. There are several different ways you can structure your essay but the most common format includes an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. Write about who you are, why you want to continue your studies, what experiences support your application, and your previous academic record. Make sure you answer the required question(s). Your paragraphs need to have transitions and resolutions. Transitions start a paragraph by providing a statement that suggests the theme for that paragraph. This allows the reader to be aware of the direction the essay is heading in. Transitions connect paragraphs to other paragraphs (usually preceding paragraphs), which causes the essay to flow smoothly. Resolutions, on the other hand, are statements that end paragraphs and allow for transition to the next paragraph. The resolution should not be a general statement but rather a meaningful one that connects facts included in the current paragraph. Both transitions and resolutions are beneficial in terms of making your essay clear and understandable.