Figuring out when to start graduate school depends on your personal and professional goals. Will a master’s degree help you get ahead? Do you need a doctorate to reach the top of your field?
There are plenty of reasons why you should get a graduate degree, and being scared to start graduate school shouldn’t keep you from learning more about what you love.
When to start graduate school
While you're still in school mode
If your ambitions require a doctorate—like a career in scientific research or becoming a professor—you may give yourself an advantage if you start grad school right away.
It’s difficult to interrupt your life later on to pursue a PhD, so moving straight into your graduate program after undergrad makes it more likely that you’ll be fresh and ready to build upon what you’ve learned so far. You’re already accustomed to life as a student, and that will help you maintain momentum. Your study skills are sharp, and your outside “life” obligations may be fewer. All of this will help you finish your doctorate—and reach your goals—more quickly.
Earning your graduate degree earlier can also help when you enter the workforce, because some occupations and organizations increasingly are requiring an advanced degree even for entry-level positions.
After you've gained some on-the-job experience
That’s not to say that going to grad school is only for fresh-faced 22-year-olds. If you’ve already spent a few years working and are interested in going back to grad school, your experience can be a real asset in many disciplines.
Especially for graduate programs in business, education, and nursing, professional experience adds weight to your grad school application and deepens the benefits of grad school. This is also true for professionals who want to advance in their industry, to alter their career path, or even to do something entirely new.
Benefits & Challenges of Waiting
There are a range of benefits for waiting, including bringing a more mature and broader outlook to your studies and gaining a strong financial footing to pay tuition and living expenses. If you’re already working before you enroll in graduate school, you also know your career goals. Some employers are even willing to help pay for your grad school expenses so you can reach those goals while remaining in your current company or organization.
At the same time, enrolling in a graduate program mid-career can come with extra challenges, like potentially disrupting your professional life. Plus, the older you are, the more you’ll need to balance school and research with family, work, and an active life. If you’re going to graduate school to move up in your organization and financial assistance is limited, you’ll want to do a cost-benefit analysis to examine if the money you pay in tuition will be offset by the potential salary increase or an improved quality of life.
Money alone shouldn’t be the deciding factor. You’ll also need support from family and friends and a clear vision of what you want to gain from your time in a doctoral or master’s program (meaning: make sure you have your priorities set).
You're ready to reset, pursue your passion, and do something new
But what if you’re dissatisfied with what you’re doing now? Going to graduate school is a great way to redirect your career path and start doing what you love. It’s never too late to start grad school and devote your life to your passion.
There are always benefits to entering a graduate program and learning more. Continuing your education, earning an advanced degree, and creating knowledge can help you transition to a new career or keep you from becoming stagnant in your current position. Grad school can make you a stronger candidate for new positions, promotions, and leadership positions, all the while deepening your understanding of your discipline, your field, and your passion.
Is it the right time for you?
Before you think you’ve missed your time, take all of this guidance with a grain of salt. Not everyone fits easily into these categories, and you shouldn’t be scared to start graduate school if you feel the time is right, regardless of where you are in life. Decide for yourself when to start graduate school and continue working toward your career and personal goals, letting your passion push you past the finish line.
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