Graduate School

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Master’s in Public Administration graduation. George Mason. May 2015.

Whether you’re towards the end of your undergraduate degree or a few years into your first job, the possibility of graduate school may have come up in your future plans. When I was in college, I knew I wanted to go to law school or graduate school. I studied for both the LSAT and GRE and researched grad programs that would match what my career goals were.

Many people will tell you that getting your master’s degree right after undergrad is not the right time. There is no such thing as the “right time.” You should decide when you are financially prepared and ready to dive back into school work.

A friend, DG, told me “I didn’t feel burned out at the end of undergrad, and I knew it was something I wanted to do. Why put it off? I’m not tied down by a mortgage, kids, etc. 20s is when you have the most time to be able to invest in yourself.” Here is some advice for applying, surviving, and job searching during grad school:

Getting Into Grad School

What type of degree do you want? In undergrad, I studied Government & International Politics and Conflict Analysis & Resolution but I wanted a master’s degree in a different subject. I researched what types of graduate degrees people had in the field of work I wanted to be in. Check out LinkedIn, look at company profiles, and network with people in your desired job field to see what type of advanced degrees they have. I talked to a lot of my undergrad professors about what master’s and PhD programs they went into.

When choosing a degree, know your options. I asked a friend, OF, what he wish he knew before grad school and he said, “I went to grad school without any plans or ideas of what I wanted to do after so I ended up getting a general MBA instead of a concentration.” OF mentioned that he wish they did more research on concentrations.

-What college(s) do you want to apply to? When considering a grad school you need to look at: -Types of degrees offered -Financial aid/grants/scholarships -Part time v full time programs -Online class offerings -Structure of the class scheduling -Internships -Availability of paid teaching assistant/research assistant jobs -Ability to keep your full time job while attending grad school I chose my college because of the availability of internships in the Washington DC area while paying in state tuition in Virginia. Only a few colleges in Virginia had my master’s degree program so that helped narrow down my search. My master’s program had 100 students in my cohort, so class sizes were small and the professors knew everyone’s name.

Some programs allow you to have a full time job while others do not, a fellow MPA classmate, Michael, mentioned “I wish I knew to apply to full time jobs and that doing both a full time job and grad school is totally doable.” Having a job when you go to school in a more costly area helps so ask your program director if this is possible.

Surviving

What is the workload? In undergrad I took 15-18 (full time) credit hours a semester and in grad school I took nine (full time). I thought nine credits would be half the work but I was in for a reality check. Grad school was 3-4x the work even though I only went to class three times a week. My first week of grad school I had to read over 200 pages before class started and had a paper due the first day of one of my classes. I had to learn how to readjust my study habits, stick to a stricter schedule, and prioritize my time. In undergrad I usually crammed for tests, wrote papers the morning before they were due, and pulled off a lot of As. This was not the case in grad school…an A was much, much harder to get because the professors expect a lot more out of you.

My friend MC gave some advice and she said, “The importance of time management is to make sure you take enough time for yourself so you don’t burn out so early on, especially if you’re also working full time.” Don’t forget to balance life, work, and school. In the long run this will help you develop critical life skills when you start your career.

Job Search

-What type of job do you want after going to grad school? Grad school programs offer plenty of job fairs throughout the academic year. If you are in a two year program, start searching for jobs during your first semester. If time allows, get an internship or part time job in the field of work you are interested in. USAJOBS is a wonderful website for finding internships, called Pathways, for college students and offer you a job once you graduate.

Talk to your career advisers at your school and network…network…network! The majority of my classmates in grad school were working full time jobs in nonprofits, county government, and federal agencies. Make connections because you never know when a job opening might arise at the perfect time!

If you have any questions regarding grad school, drop me a line 🙂

-KC

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