Is Graduate Study Right For You?
You’ll likely get conflicting advice from mentors and family members about when (or if) graduate school needs to be part of your career plan.
Why might there be debate?
- Different fields have differing expectations for when graduate degrees fit into a career plan and how much work or research experience applicants will have prior to graduate/professional school.
- Some people believe that more education is always better, but sometimes too much education can price you out of your target
market—graduate school is not a good place to “hide” if you are uncertain about your career plans or struggling in the job search
- It can seem convenient to continue life as a student before additional community and family obligations need to be juggled alongside school
So, how can you decide whether to invest the time and energy into a graduate degree?
- Talk to a wide assortment of professionals in your intended career to learn about the norms for when people tend to pursue graduate study and the types of programs the complete—even people in the same career field may gain more or less value from particular degrees
- Assess if you will be a competitive candidate for quality programs by talking with your faculty advisor, researching programs, and evaluating how closely your GPA, test scores, and other attributes match the school’s average student profile
- Develop an understanding for the career support provided through the graduate programs you are considering. How typical is it that people get the kinds of jobs they want after the program? If your goal is a less common outcome for the program, what specific elements of the program (like courses, professional networks, or location) will help you to be successful in reaching your goal? How important is your goal?
Researching Graduate Schools
- Research by program or state at petersons.com, gradschools.com, Affordable Colleges Online or websites that are specific to your field of study.
- Talk to your Faculty Advisor. Motivated students can take advantage of several accelerated dual-degree programs in which students study at the College for three years and then go on to a graduate program with one of our partnering institutions.
- Connect with people who have been in a program to give you a unique perspective. Call your prospective program and ask if you can have an Informational Interview with a student.
Lake Forest College students pursue graduate education at the nation’s finest institutions. Faculty and staff can assist you in the grad school application process. We also work closely with Princeton Review, a top-ranked exam provider, to provide free practice admissions tests for alumni and students, including:
- LSAT: For law school
- GMAT: For graduate school in business
- GRE: For graduate and professional programs
- MCAT: For medical school
How to Build Test Preparation into Your Everyday Life
The tests you take for admission to graduate/professional school influence the programs that you can realistically consider, and most schools do not consider a “super score” that lets you use the best results from each section across exams – in other words, don’t plan to take the test multiple times!
While test preparation courses can be helpful, here are things you can do as part of your life as a student at Lake Forest College to prepare:
- Learn to study. Develop an awareness for how you learn best (and how you don’t). In particular, learn how to analyze material and consider the implications for what you are learning instead of just the facts, figures, and essentials of the moment.
- Develop your quantitative and analytical abilities. Studying for math and science courses are different from humanities and social science courses. Discover how you study technical and mathematics-related content.
- Consider taking courses in logic, statistics, computer science, and/or math like: PHL 156, MTH 150, MTH 160, and CS 107.
- Discover how to read a lot…and remember what you read. Sometimes graduate school really is about reading a quantity of information and drawing conclusions about it. When you read large amounts of information, you also need to be able reflect on what you read – being able to place a check mark on your to do list won’t provide what your professor desires and won’t help you to develop the skills for scanning passages on standardized exams.
- Consider taking courses in history, politics, and English.
- Strengthen your verbal abilities. It’s difficult to read a lot, to analyze information, or do well on a verbal section of an exam if you have a limited vocabulary.
- Look up words you read and don’t understand in a dictionary (or online at http://www.merriam-webster.com/). Ask what words mean when you don’t understand them – words have connotative and denotative meaning, and what you read in the dictionary might not fully improve your understanding of a word. Practice using new words in your vocabulary.
- Consider taking English and communication courses that require use of your verbal skills like: ENG 110, rhetoric, and public presentation courses.
- Develop your personal management skills. Despite your best efforts to follow all other items on this list, if you don’t invest in your ability to manage your emotions and time, you will likely struggle with taking the actions that you need to take to be successful.
On-Campus Support and Resources
If you are anxious about whether you will be successful in graduate school or on the exam, you may be creating personal barriers. If you constantly think that you’ll plan for graduate school “later”, but continually put off steps of the process, you might wait too long and miss the chance to be a competitive applicant for the best programs. To be nervous about your future is completely normal; to avoid dealing with it, may be getting in your way more than you realize.
For support with developing your abilities to manage time, priorities, and emotions, consider the following resources, which each provide different kinds of support:
Career Advancement Center
Buchanan Hall 110
Gates Center for Leadership and Personal Growth
Mohr Student Center, Stuart Commons
Health and Wellness Center
Buchanan Hall 132
Learning Resource Center
Donnelley and Lee Library 237
Bonus Tips and Tricks
These steps are helpful, but are field-specific or not as critical as those outlined above.
- Learn another language. Learning languages beyond your native language can help you to understand other cultures, the root meanings of words that cross languages, and expand your marketability if you become fluent. Why it helps:
- Some graduate/professional programs will award extra points in the admissions process. Increasingly, health professions and other consumer/client-driven fields need more multi-lingual professionals to serve diverse communities.
- Language skills provide access to scholarly work produced in other languages and enable you to participate in additional international study/conference.
- To get experience: study abroad, seek fellowships to study language, participate in language tables, volunteer, and take language classes.
- Take a legal studies course if you are considering law or administration. Legal studies courses are not required for law school. The primary value of these courses come from your exposure to logic and technical terms that can help you understand whether law is more interesting to watch on TV than to study.
- Know your science if you are continuing in the sciences or health professions. There are subject matter tests that test what you know. Check with your department about any special preparation group. Areas of study that are likely to require you to take a subject matter test include: physics, chemistry, psychology, mathematics, biology, and health fields.
- Learn what research is and how to do it correctly and ethically. Graduate programs in all disciplines – not just the natural sciences – will require you to become a competent researcher – to know how to develop research questions, be able to select the right method for your questions, and carry out that research in a responsible way. Learning about how to be a responsible researcher while you are still an undergraduate will make you more competitive when you apply for graduate school. To learn more about the responsible conduct of research, contact the Office of Grants and Scholarships for self-directed learning opportunities, or speak with your advisor about receiving training that goes above and beyond classroom lectures.
- Clarify whether graduate study is right for you. While preparing for the exams that you might take to be competitive for graduate study, remember that it is critical to conduct career research to inform your understanding about whether graduate study is right for you and when it will be most useful for you.
- Request to talk with alumni through the Forester Career Network (coming soon!)
- Participate in job shadowing and internships to learn about options you will pursue after graduate school.
- Attend lectures and events related to your areas of interest; talk to the speakers and your fellow participants.
- Visit schools and talk to professors in programs of interest.
- Reach Beyond Your Boundaries. Know your weaknesses and reach out for help. Many challenges can be overcome with persistence and study, especially when you ask for help early enough to be able to act on the recommendations. Whether it’s your faculty advisor, the Graduate/Professional School Committee, Career Advancement Center, Health and Wellness Center, or Learning Resource Center, there are many people on campus that are here to help.