What's the deal with grad school?
April 6, 2017 10:08 AM   Subscribe

I got a degree in CS about 10 years ago, worked in the field for a couple of years and moved on. Now I think I want to go to grad school, but don't really know how it works...

Over the last 7 years, I've done a number of things, none of them in any way remotely related to programming (Think - owning a gym, training service dogs, started a succesful local business, etc...). I ended up selling my last business, made enough money that I will be alright for a few years, but I've decided I'd like to do something to combat climate change, somehow.

I was thinking about getting into the renewable energy field. I've found a couple of graduate programs through the state university system (Massachusetts) - but where do I go from here? Do I have to take the GRE? Some of the programs are through the engineering departments, does it matter that I don't have a Bachelors in engineering or that my Bachelors is totally out of date and I haven't been working in a technology field? What's the difference between a full on Master's and a Graduate level certificate? I'm kind of lost here and don't really know anybody in the engineering fields. Everybody I know who went to Grad school, went for Education which has a lower barrier to entry (I think). Any and all information is appreciated.
posted by youthenrage to Education (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The answers here are going to vary a lot by the specific program. Some will have a different process for fresh college grads than for people coming in from professional lives too. Can you tell anything from their websites? You might want to pick one and ask some questions, just to get a feel, and they might tell you whether their process is standard -- I'd ask, among other things: GREs or no, do I need references from college profs or can I use professional refs, does degree of undergrad matter or just specific classes, might I need additional classes as prerequisites that I wouldn't have taken for my CS degree, etc.

You might also want tho think about what "getting into the renewable energy field" means to you. For example, with your business experience, you might be in a good position to start (or be part of), say, a solar panel installation or green design consulting business, rather than trying to get into designing new technologies from scratch. Just throwing that out there.
posted by acm at 10:25 AM on April 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do I have to take the GRE?
Maybe, maybe not, depends on both the school and the program.

does it matter that I don't have a Bachelors in engineering?
Maybe, maybe not. Good performance at a good school in CS will likely be ok for many programs.

The thing to do is shop for programs first, , then see what you have to do to get in, consider how to pay for it, how long it will take, if you have to move, etc etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:28 AM on April 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I work for a university. I do not work for admissions. My university is not your university. Your university will be different in some ways.

Certificates are short usually one or two semester programs for someone who may want to retrain or gain a knowledge base in an area the person has no training in. It is not actually a degree, it is a certificate. Universities are required to provide what is called "Gainful Employment Disclosure" on their certificate programs. A certificate is less than a degree. It's great for a working professional in Marketing who wants to develop an understanding in Accounting, for example, but it's probably not something you necessarily want to do.

A degree is a degree and implies that you have learned a considerable amount to be expected to have expertise in the subject area of your degree.

What you should do is call up the admissoins department at the university you are interested in and have them help you get in touch with the program you're interested in so you can have your questions answered specifically by that program.
posted by zizzle at 10:29 AM on April 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

You should contact the program coordinator/administrative assistant or director of graduate studies at any of the programs you are interested in and ask them these questions. Seriously, it's totally fine to do that, and it's the best way to find out what the particular program you're looking at will require, and what they look for in applicants. I think the best kept secret about grad school programs is that you really should just contact the program and ask them how you get in, rather than apply and hope for the best.

Specifically for your question about the difference between a Master's and a Grad Level Certificate -- it looks to me like that Certificate is something useful for someone who has a job and wants to get some training related to sustainability to further their career, and it also could probably function as a low-stake/low-cost way to enhance a resume, but it might not be enough to totally break into an industry.

You should think about exactly what kind of work you want to do. Do you want to do engineering/technology/programming? If you want to extend from your CS degree, then engineering departments probably aren't too much of a stretch. The only caveat there would be that they may require high Quantitative GRE scores. If you want to do something more managerial/entrepreneurial, then you might think about looking at business schools and seeing if they have Masters degrees that focus on sustainability. (for example.) If you want to do something a bit more conservation-ish, then you might look at something that's in a school of life sciences or a natural resources/conservation. But basically, think about what the kinds of day to day tasks you would want your work to consist in, and then think about what kind of discipline or field that is, and look at those departments.

Master's degrees vary in whether they require a research thesis or not. A program you might look at is Civil Engineering at UConn, and they offer both options: Plan A (thesis) and Plan B (comprehensive exam). Either way, a Master's degree is generally going to be two years of course work and about 30 credits, and will have some sort of capstone at the end, either a thesis, a capstone project, or a comprehensive exam. Master's degrees are generally not funded which means that you will pay tuition, but some Master's programs, and this will be more true in engineering and the sciences than in business, will provide tuition funding in exchange for your work as a teaching assistant or research assistant.

In that latter case, reaching out to specific professors that you might be interested in working with is really the way that you get into the program. In fact, this is probably the single most important thing you can do to figure out exactly what it is you really want to do -- cold-email some professors, send them a C.V. (slightly different from a resume, but a resume will often serve), and tell them what it is you are looking to do.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 10:32 AM on April 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

And best of luck! Grad school is hard, and stressful, but it's also really rewarding! Just get clearer on what you want out of it before you dive in!
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 10:33 AM on April 6, 2017

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