Explore Graduate School
Continuing your education may be a desired or necessary next step to reach your career goals. Before pursuing any program, thoroughly explore your interests and options to ensure you’re doing what’s best for you and your future.
Assess Your Interests
Graduate programs, including master’s, PhD, and professional programs (e.g., JD, MD, DVM), are demanding academic pursuits that can be expensive, time-consuming, and stressful. Assessing your motivation and readiness beforehand can help you determine when and if you should pursue graduate school. Some questions to consider include:
- Why do I want to go to graduate school?
- What kind of degree do I want to pursue?
- How will graduate school impact my career path? Will going help me get promoted or make more money?
- Is it necessary to accomplish my career goals? Have I explored all career options available with and without a graduate degree?
- Should I wait until after I gain full-time work experience or take a gap year?
- Am I a strong candidate for graduate/professional school (undergraduate experiences, academic performance)?
- How much will it cost me and how will I pay?
For additional considerations when exploring graduate school, see the Considering Graduate School: Should I Go? resource guide.
Find & Evaluate Programs
Explore Programs: Meet with MSU career advisors, academic advisors, and faculty to begin discussing your interest in graduate or professional school. They often have a broad knowledge of programs and can help you start brainstorming. Continue to explore by using online resources such as Peterson’s, GradSchools.com, and U.S. News Rankings, to identify possible programs. Researching professional associations as well as connecting with MSU alumni and other professionals within your desired field using MSU Connect and LinkedIn can also help you investigate options.
Evaluate Programs: Create a spreadsheet to analyze and compare the key features of each program of interest. Consider factors such as cost, application deadline, geographic location, application and course requirements, the job market in the field, etc. as you evaluate. Additional items to consider can be found in the Considering Graduate School: Finding & Evaluating Programs resource guide.
Engage Online: Narrow down your options to programs that best align with your academic interests and career pursuits, and start making connections. Contact program directors to express your interest and ask questions you can’t find the answers to on their websites. Ask about visit days or informational webinars for prospective students.
Connect in Person: Campus visits can be especially helpful when evaluating your fit with a program. Sit in on a class, talk to current students, and connect with faculty regarding their research. This is also a good time to explore funding options, including assistantships and scholarships. Attending the MSU Graduate and Law School Fair in the fall can also give you a chance to connect with representatives in person.
Application Timeline & Financing
Although application deadlines differ for each field or program, it’s important to stay organized and on track to apply as early as possible. Applying at programs’ first deadline is the best way to be first in line for funding opportunities when available. Most programs will not review your application until all materials have been successfully submitted and it’s been verified that you meet requirements. When developing your timeline, be sure to account for any of the following as they will take time to compile or complete:
- Taking standardized tests
- Asking for letters of recommendation
- Writing a personal statement or essays
- Updating resume and/or compiling portfolio pieces
While preparing your applications, use this time to also look into financial assistance. The following options can be considered to help you pay for graduate or professional school:
- Assistantships and grants
- Scholarships and fellowships
- Federal or private loans
- Employer support
For a sample timeline and more information about paying for graduate school, see the Considering Graduate School: Application Timeline & Financing resource guide.
Considering Gap Year(s)
A gap year is a time spent in between life stages to learn and grow. The first year (or more) after finishing your bachelor’s degree can be a beneficial time to hit the pause button and reflect on your needs for future careers. Use a gap year to:
- Take time to prepare for graduate or professional school applications
- Build skills and gain experience for a desired career
- Explore and evaluate career interests
- Navigate uncertainty surrounding available career opportunities
- Focus on other priorities including family
During a gap year, consider opportunities that will help you build skills and gain industry exposure. Look for structured programs that are contracted for a certain amount of time (e.g., AmeriCorps programs), short-term contract, freelance positions or gig work (e.g., blogging, photography, tutoring), or post-graduate internships and transitional positions related to your field of interest.
Review the Taking a Gap Year resource guide for more information when considering and planning for a gap year (or two).