By now, you’ve probably realized that getting a graduate degree is no small task. Perhaps, for this reason, those who stick with it and earn these degrees are given special deference.
Getting a master’s or doctorate degree is an accomplishment worthy of praise. It means that you have been exposed to and trained in a higher level of analysis and problem-solving than your bachelor-holding counterparts. Also, you have a higher level of expertise. Your professors, classmates, and materials were all of a higher caliber than those in the undergraduate programs. Many of your classmates may have real, bona fide job experience in your area of study. Let there be no doubt: you earn every square inch of that diploma.
Grad studies are hard. Professors will call you at random to answer difficult, complex, maybe even impossible, questions. You simply cannot wing it. The tests are cheat-proof. And guess what? Your classmates will be brilliant, too. You most likely will have gone from being the only shark in a small pond to being one shark in a shark tank full of man-eaters.
The following three questions are designed to test your resolve and fit for graduate studies:
1. Can you read, comprehend, and analyze large amounts of information?
Yes, you probably read a lot during your undergrad education. You may have read monsters like Dante’s Divine Comedy, which can weigh in at more than 1,400 pages. Or you may have been assigned three chapters of work per class period. If you did, the amount that you will read in a graduate program will not be too different. However, the understanding you will be expected to have of the material will be much higher.
In many MBA or law programs, for example, students are assigned multiple case studies daily. These cases will range from ten to fifty pages each. In addition to simply reading them, however, students are expected to synthesize the information and formulate a strong solution to the problem at hand. In class, students will be asked, often at random, to state and protect their solutions. With the whole room gunning for you, you’d better know your facts well. No one gets top grades for merely reading- A’s are reserved for those who can present and defend successful solutions.
If you are lacking in this department, does that mean you should forget about grad school? Not exactly. Many resources are available to get prospective grad students up to par with their voracious peers. Kaplan and Princeton Review, among others, offer great courses to get you ready.
2. Are your study skills and habits up to par?
Intellectual ability aside, many students struggle with maintaining good study habits. They sit down to read fifty-something pages about the intricacies of a FIFO accounting system over those of a LIFO system. But they get distracted, sometimes by roommates, sometimes by a butterfly on the window sill, sometimes by the Xbox 360 calling from the corner of the room. Next thing they know, four hours have flown by and it’s time to head to the barbecue. I mean, let’s face it: a vast number of us are just not as disciplined as we’d like to be.
With the armfuls of work you will be asked to juggle in a grad school program, strong study skills and habits are a must. Especially during the first year of most programs, you will need the strength to shun the video game console or the invitation to catch a movie and keep your nose in the books.
The blessed few of us who know when to say no to study temptations have my admiration and respect. The rest of us, however, who struggle with diligent study can have hope. There are resources to help. Many of them are designed to be taken the summer before you enter your program to give you the skills you will need to survive that crucial first year.
3. Do you have a great deal of interest in your prospective field of study?
When you enter a grad program in a given field, you become immersed in that topic. You eat, sleep, drink, and breathe that topic. When you’re waking thoughts are not plagued by thoughts of that topic, it haunts your dreams. And you generally associate only with others who are immersed in that topic. Therefore, knowing this, it is of the utmost importance that you choose to study something that will not sicken you after the first week.
Many prospective grad students can’t see this seemingly fundamental concept for the green in their eyes. Their thinking is this simplistic: "Lawyers make a lot of money. I want to make a lot of money. Therefore, I will go to law school to become a lawyer." They do not consider that students of the law must have an almost insane appreciation for semantics and the complexities of language. They must love to argue and debate. They must find meaning in reading the driest, most dense documents to glean out the crucial issues that will allow them to defend their position. Not surprisingly, these same students may find themselves paying the exorbitant fees of the first year of law school before they finally realize that they just plain don’t like studying the law and drop out.
Do yourself a favor and choose a graduate program that you can really get excited about. Take a moment or two and put aside all of the dollar figures. Do some research on the field you are considering. Know what interests you and know what turns you off. Taking this simple step will save you a lot of time, effort, and money in the long run.
So, are you ready for grad school? If you are, congratulations! You are set to broaden your horizons and take your career to the next level. If you’re not, you can do a lot to get ready.
About the author
Marcus Varner earned his BA in English from Brigham Young University with a Creative Writing emphasis. He is currently in his second year at BYU’s lauded MBA program studying Marketing. He blogs, writes fiction and screenplays, loves movies, and can’t resist playing superheroes with his kids.