3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Applying to Grad School
Erin Sanchez is a writer, marketing maven, and business coach living in the Greater Seattle Area with her husband, four dogs, and five chickens. She geeks out on consumer psychology and what makes businesses tick while drinking way too much coffee. When she’s not enjoying the outdoors, Erin blogs at CandidlyErin.com where she teaches writers how to flee the 9-5 grind and build businesses they love. Follow Erin on Instagram for biz tips, inspiration, and, of course, pretty pics!
Take it from me, the girl who “always knew she’d get her master’s,” but didn’t really know why: graduate school is not a decision to take lightly.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily regret my degree. But then again, that’s just the kind of person I am. I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my lifetime, and I figure every decision—good or bad—has shaped me into the person I am.
So in that sense, I have no regrets. I try not to dwell on the should’ve/would’ve/could’ve things in life.
All that being said, grad school was a MAJOR undertaking and something I like to be brutally honest about.
Here are three questions to ask yourself before applying to graduate school:
1. Does the program align with my ultimate life goals?
In other words, will the graduate degree you’re seeking help you achieve your dreams? If you want to be a professor, a doctor, a researcher, or some other profession that requires a master’s or PhD, then the answer is probably “yes.”
However, if you’re considering the Ivory Tower life because you want to pass the time, feel like it’s “just what you’re supposed to do,” or you’re using it as a way to procrastinate on your real goals, tread carefully.
For years, I wanted to start freelancing and quit my 9-5 (I h-a-t-e-d corporate life). But striking out on your own can be scary, and I lacked confidence. I figured I could go to school for two more years while honing my writing skills and growing my freelance career.
Y’all. Do you realize you are assigned like 500 pages of dense academic reading PER WEEK in grad school? I didn’t even feel like reading a recipe card, let alone launching a freelance writing career in my “spare time.” (Spoiler alert: you won’t have any spare time.)
While the program did help me as a writer and critical thinker, it ultimately ended up delaying my dreams for 2+ years. Please consider what the degree program you’re interested in really has to offer you in terms of reaching your goals.
2. Will I have to borrow money?
And if you must borrow money, at what point will the debt feel less like an investment in yourself and more like a burden?
This is HUGE.
Look, I borrowed my way through grad school, so I’m not going to judge anyone else for doing the same. But know this: grad school is e.x.p.e.n.s.i.v.e. and most programs don’t “pay for themselves” in your lifetime.
Also be aware that while student loan interest rates may be better than those of credit cards, I’m still paying more than double the rates of my car loan. It adds up!
Consider whether you can accomplish your educational goals through books, online courses, workshops, and coaching. Why do we believe traditional education is somehow more worthy of our money?
Everything I learned about starting and running my business, I learned from books, mentors, and good old fashioned experimentation.
Bottom line: Massive student loan debt can make it difficult to get a home loan, takes a large portion of your monthly income, and altogether feels like an ape on your back. If you’re uncomfortable with carrying a lot of debt for the next 10+ years, do some serious soul searching (and number crunching).
3. What is my action plan for (re)payment?
Whether or not you borrow money for grad school, you need a plan of attack to pay for it. If you’re paying out-of-pocket, can you carry a full course load and continue working full-time? Or will you need to attend school part-time in order to make it affordable? Consider what other luxuries and activities might you need to sacrifice to pay for school, and ask yourself if it’s worth it.
If you decide to go the route of borrowing, what kind of loan do you qualify for? A personal loan? Federal? Like any major life decision, when it comes to borrowing, DO YOUR RESEARCH! StudentLoans.gov and StudenAid.gov are excellent resources that you should spend time exploring before committing to grad school debt.
Look at rates, repayment options, and use a loan repayment calculator. Make sure you know what your burden will be, how much time you have to pay it back, and whether there are special circumstances that might apply to you (for example, if you work in the non-profit sector, some of your loans may be forgiven after a period of time).
I knew I wanted to start freelancing after my graduate studies, and I was only working part-time during school. So I selected an Income-Based Repayment plan that would allow me to make payments congruent with my income. There are several options, and you should choose what best fits your situation.
Long story short: don’t borrow blindly and always have a proactive financial plan.
A couple words of encouragement.
My intention isn’t to scare you away from grad school if that’s where your heart is. I certainly came out a more confident, much more knowledgeable person…even if I didn’t want to pick up a book for a year after graduation (sad, but true).
And while I can’t directly credit my master’s degree for my professional achievements thus far, it has undoubtedly helped me land gigs and clients in my freelance career.
Finally, my studies were also personally fulfilling, and I can genuinely say I am a much better person for having gone through the experience. I’m more grounded in my personal beliefs and well-rounded intellectually. These aren’t things you can put a price tag on.
So even if your heart says “GO FOR IT,” just make sure your head is in the game, too.
Take it from me, the no regrets girl who admittedly took her grad school decision a little too lightly.