Between 2017 and 2018, the overall numbers for first-time graduate school enrollment in all types of academic institutions rose to 2.1%. While not mandatory for certain professions, a master’s degree, doctorate, or postgraduate diploma program is crucial in securing career advancement in practically every industry or sector. Not surprisingly, many who aspire for better career options return to school after several years of employment or professional practice.
A graduate degree is always associated with the opportunity to specialize in an area you are passionate about and enjoy higher earning capacity. Careers, where a higher degree is required, could mean more money and mobility, and these may include business administration, management, database administration, software engineering, and marketing. Other growing industries requiring a graduate degree program include healthcare social work, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and marriage and family therapy. With a doctorate or a master’s, you get access to higher positions in education, administration, medicine, and law.
What the Graduate School Statistics Say
In the fall of 2011, at least one online course in college was completed by 32% of all students. The prominence of online learning keeps growing as of 2012, with 62.4% of the surveyed schools offering online graduate degree programs.
In terms of financial aid, do grad students get the help they need?
According to a 2014 study by the New America Education Policy Program on graduate student loans, 25% of graduate students have loaned a total of $100,000 to pay for graduate school, and another 10% borrowed more than $150,000.
According to a National Survey of College Graduates conducted by the National Science Foundation (NSF), 49% of doctorate holders working in 2015 have worked in universities and colleges. In another survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 43.8% of the teaching workforce in the post-secondary area holds a graduate degree. This number also includes those working in community colleges.
First Time Grad Student? Here’s a Checklist for Embarking on Your Graduate Journey
Selecting the best graduate program is more than just looking at school rankings, applying to reputable universities, and beating application deadlines. As a prospective graduate student who will be in it for the first time, check for these before making that big academic leap:
Catalog of Degree Programs and Courses
Look for graduate degree programs that will align with your goals and equip you with the skills and knowledge for competence in your career. Check the teaching philosophy of the degree program. Does it focus on pure research? Is it theory-based? When your objective is to pursue a career that focuses on scientific analysis or application, you may find it challenging to land one when your graduate degree background focuses on the theoretical aspect of the field.
Graduate students also need to determine the subfield that the degree program emphasizes. Learn about the program strategy. Relatively, the more you know about the complexities of your field, the simpler it will be to choose the curriculum that matches your interest.
Graduate Program Options
Check if your preferred master’s or doctorate programs are offered on-campus or online. Universities and colleges are gradually joining the online world for their highly credible graduate programs, and this would mean more freedom and greater flexibility for first-time grad students.
Is your graduate program offered in an online learning format? Consider if the curriculum is accredited, similar to its traditional counterpart.
Graduate degree programs offered online are present in the most prominent traditional universities and colleges. They are often the same as their conventional counterparts on campus. Also, online programs provide graduate students who want to start working full-time or part-time the flexibility and convenience they need while completing their degree.
You can opt for classes in the evening or during the weekend. Universities and colleges now provide graduate degree programs that can be accomplished exclusively through weekend or evening classes. These programs have been designed for working students and are suitable for those who want to return to school.
Financial Aid Options
Graduate school is typically costly, but tuition and other expenses can vary significantly from program to program. Make a reasonable assessment of how much you are capable of paying and be mindful of the time it takes to repay your loan.
Here are some financial aid options most universities offer to first-time graduate students:
- Student loans: Many graduate students tend to loan money to pay for tuition, even though they have other available financial options.
- Stafford loans: Federal Stafford loans for professional school and graduate students feature one of the lowest interest rates.
- Graduate PLUS Loans: Graduate PLUS loans are considered loans that the Federal Government has funded. These pay up to a high cost of attendance, which may include the student’s living expenses deducted from other financial aid options received. Such loans usually come with a higher interest rate than Stafford loans and are granted (or denied) depending on the credit record of the borrower.
- Perkins loans: The Federal Perkins Loan Program offers loans according to the financial need of students. Graduate students may borrow up to $8,000 yearly for up to $60,000 in total.
- Grant fellowships and scholarships: Grant programs are typically need-based, while most fellowships are merit-based. Scholarships could be both.
- Teaching and research assistantships: Most teaching assistants (TAs) operate alongside students and may include teaching tasks. There are graduate schools that hire research assistants (RAs) to aid in the execution of academic research.
- Work-study programs: Work-study programs are frequently related to teaching and research assistantships, and they may overlap in many schools. The job offers include library assistance and administrative roles or other jobs available at a university or college.
- Work tuition assistance or reimbursement: If you’re a working graduate student, check if your employer provides tuition reimbursement or support. Employees become better encouraged to pursue graduate school if their employer makes this kind of offer.
Your environment impacts your academic performance. If you are not into the urban lifestyle, a graduate school in a busy metropolitan area might not be ideal for you. Conversely, if a modern location gets you inspired, find a graduate school surrounded by skyscrapers. To be sure, secure a list of potential programs and visit your shortlisted universities.
Completed Application Requirements
The graduate school application process isn’t as easy as you think. Do your research at least six months before applying to graduate schools and notify the recruitment office or specialized division accordingly.
All graduate schools have application forms and instructions. Here are some of the standard requirements for a graduate study application:
- Application form: First-time graduate students must be ready to provide general information such as their name, address, other contact details as well as educational background. Students should be fully aware of all requirements for submission and also the deadlines.
- Transcript of records: Transcripts are considered one of the essential supplementary documents that students need to provide. Transcripts include an official record of the students’ grades and their GPA. You also need to inform potential programs about the challenges and types of courses that students have completed.
- Standardized test scores: Most programs require students to submit their scores for one or more standardized examinations for admission to graduate school. Mostly, you will be asked to submit your General Record Examination (GRE) score that measures your skills in analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning.
- Letters of Recommendation: Recommendation letters serve as character references. A good letter of recommendation from a senior member of the faculty needs to identify the student’s positive qualities. This is because it can make the difference between rejection and acceptance.
- Statement of purpose or personal statement: Nearly all graduate schools require one or more essays or written reports. This is where first-time applicants describe themselves and their preferences and explain why they want to be part of the graduate program.
Online Reviews and Student Testimonials
Testimonials exist everywhere. You see them on social media, product pages, websites, and the marketplace. They are a valuable source of information, particularly when selecting an online graduate degree program. Student testimonials, in particular, can answer questions about interaction with classmates, time management, and required technology.
When reading testimonials from graduate students online, make sure they pertain to legitimate online graduate degree programs. Testimonials and online reviews are also found on the website or Facebook page of universities and colleges. You can also use the school website’s search feature.
First-time graduate students should talk to former or current students about programs where they have joined. These can be useful for social media websites and applications. Communicating with other students is the key to finding out what the regular educational environment appears to them.
Graduate School Consultants or Advisors
Talking to professors and instructors may provide a great deal of information in the existing undergraduate degree program of a student. Professors can also maintain their communication with former students who may have pursued graduate school and are willing to monitor degree programs in other colleges and universities.
First-time graduate students also need to consult a graduate school counselor. They are professionals who can assist you in all the aspects of planning and preparing for graduate school, from selecting the appropriate courses for you to completing the registration process on schedule.
Suitable Online Resources and Facilities
Check if the university has the equipment and services to satisfy your specific needs. Facilities may include laboratories, museums, libraries, scholarships, loan options, teaching assistance, summer fellowships, and online academic resources.