Grad school dreamin'
August 19, 2014 6:44 AM   Subscribe

How can I lay the foundation for a very intential, awesome graduate experience a few years ahead of time? (I'm a hopeless planner.)

I graduated from college in 2011, and I have been idly considering going gack to graduate school recently. I have a liberal arts BA, which isn't really that suited to the work that I'm doing. I think I am good at this work and I enjoy it, but looking forward at the kinds of jobs I'd like to be in in ten years, I think I probably need to go back to school eventually. (I'd be getting a masters in education, though not in order to be a teacher in a classroom, most likely.) Not necessarily full time, I'm not really sure what it would look like.

I feel like in a lot of ways I didn't make the most academically of undergrad (which is fine, I don't think I was at a place in my life to make the most of it, I was figuring stuff out about myself and that was important at that point.) I want to go into grad school very focused and with a lot of intention about what I want to get out of the program. I want to focus my studies and my projects in ways that are relevant to me. I want to have the opportunity to get involved in organizations doing the kind of work I'm interested in and come out with contacts. I also want to make sure that this is the right choice for me in the first place.

So, to that end, what can I do now, 1-3 years out, to make sure that if I do go back to school, I'm not just drifting through it? Also, is there anything I can do ahead of time to help me finance it, besides just saving money (HAHAHAHA)? People I should contact, mental exercises I should do?
posted by geegollygosh to Education (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Could you be clearer about what goal you hope to achieve by going to grad school? You say "I want to go into grad school very focused and with a lot of intention about what I want to get out of the program..." but, um, what DO you intend to get out of the program? Are you trying to get something you want out of grad school or do you just want to go to grad school?

I can't tell what you want or expect to get out of grad school, and based on that I would say that grad school is NOT the right choice for you in the first place. An M.A. does not usually make you more employable (there are exceptions). Grad school is usually not a very good investment, time and money-wise. If grad school will allow you to do something you really really want to do that you wouldn't be able to do without grad school, consider it. Otherwise, wait. Possibly forever.
posted by mskyle at 7:17 AM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

If grad school will allow you to do something you really really want to do that you wouldn't be able to do without grad school, consider it. Otherwise, wait. Possibly forever.
I just want to second what mskyle says above. I recommend that you do NOT enter grad school unless you have a very solid justification for what doing so will gain you, and I'd add, if you can't find any other way (on the job training, side gigs transitioning to a primary gig, etc).

I can tell a compelling narrative about how my grad school experience (entered a ph.d without a real clear goal, withdrew after six years with a masters) allowed me to make a career pivot that's been really good for me, but the reality is, hindsight says I could've made far wiser choices and got to a similar endpoint faster with less agony both for me and my advisor/program.

A masters in ed is a different beast from a doctorate, but I think some of the same considerations apply.
posted by Alterscape at 7:27 AM on August 19, 2014

Response by poster: Okay guys. So this question is NOT a "should I go to grad school?" question. This is a "what can I do/think about now to make sure grad school is worth it for me?" question. If that includes ways that I can constructively think/research about whether grad school is right for me, I'm open to that.

Anyway, I have spent quite a bit of time looking at job postings of jobs I would want in the future and the linkedin profiles of folks who have the jobs I want, and I have come to the conclusion that right now I simply don't have the academic background in education/child development to stay on this path. Nor do I have several helpful certifications.

Again, I'm not ENROLLING IN GRAD SCHOOL RIGHT NOW TODAY. My timeline is several years out. I'm kicking the idea around and looking for ways to help me clarify my goals with regards to grad school. Hope this helped.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:31 AM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hold informational interviews with the people you're looking at on LinkedIn, and see if they say you need a Masters in Education/how they made the most of graduate school/if they have any advice on specific programs or funding options.

Find online boards/websites devoted to your future profession, and read them in depth. Make note of any statistics on employment, make note of how many people seem positive or negative about their situation, and so forth.

Research graduate schools that offer Masters in Education programs. Visit their campuses, email current and former graduate students from their programs, and email the professors who you feel a connection with (their focus is similar to what yours would be/they went to the same undergrad at you/they have the same BA degree/etc). Figure out all the costs of the program, and add your cost of living and the lost income/opportunity cost and the interest you'll pay on student loans if you have to take them out.

Research what graduate school itself is like. Read the Chronicle of Higher Education's forum on graduate school. Understand that graduate school is much more self-directed and academic success is of a quantitatively and qualitatively different nature than it was in undergrad.
posted by vegartanipla at 7:51 AM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

What do the numbers look like? If you're taking out loans, what will you owe at the end of the degree, and how long will it take you to pay that money back? Make sure to subtract your student loans (and interest, if applicable) from the annual income numbers you're looking to hit.

It may turn out that while you don't have the academic background to stay on your career path, going through the process of getting that academic background may set you back financially in a way that grad school does not end up being a worthwhile investment (and unless you're rich or have a guaranteed high-paying job offer upon graduation, you absolutely must examine grad school as a financial investment.)

Also, I think it would help to know what it is you're doing now and what it is you want to be doing with the degree. Keep in mind that a lot of people working the sort of non-teaching jobs you need an MA in Education to have got that degree while on the job, and there's a good chance that it was funded by the job, at least in part.
posted by griphus at 7:53 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Graduate school is a lot more personal than undergrad. You might want to start early by meeting the actual people from the department you want to study with. Academia can seem like a solid edifice from the outside but internally it is full of political divisions and personal rivalries. You should know who the players are and which side you want to be on. The department and especially the chair have tremendous latitude in who they do and do not include with their group. Being an outsider is not an option.

The more you know!
posted by sunslice at 8:28 AM on August 19, 2014

If you do those information interviews (a good idea!), make sure you ask these people about what their grad school classmates are doing, how long it took them to find a job, what kind of education other people they work with have, stuff like that. Also if you're looking to get a professional degree it's a really good idea to get some work experience in that field before you sign on (it's not clear whether you're currently working in this field), for two reasons: it gives you a more realistic idea of what the job will actually be a like, and there's the possibility of getting work to pay for it.

Another way to get work to pay for grad school is to work for the university offering the graduate program, so if you can't work in your future field now, consider applying for jobs at a university you're interested in attending. A lot of places have a waiting period before you're allowed to take classes.

Also figure out whether you have the prereqs you need for grad school. Maybe you could be taking some of those on the cheap at a community college right now.

I do still stand by my previous post though: the best thing you can do to prepare for graduate school is to figure out what you think graduate school is going to do for you and compare that against the actual results for real people.
posted by mskyle at 9:12 AM on August 19, 2014

Something that noone's mentioned so far is experience in the field, you don't mention your day job, but if you're interested in Education and have time on your hands I'd maybe look into getting as much voluntary or paid work experience as possible with a wide a group of young people / orgs as you could manage.
posted by Middlemarch at 12:07 PM on August 19, 2014

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