Should I Go to Grad School?

April 30, 2022 | by Fortuna Admissions

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“Should I go to grad school?”

As seasoned admissions coaches, our answer invariably is: It depends. A graduate degree is a coveted distinction, especially from a top program. And while the best graduate degrees promise to enhance your job and financial prospects, not all degrees are created equal. When asking, “what should I go to grad school for?” most applicants cite career advancement, higher earning power, and gaining unique expertise for specialized roles and/or industries.

For example, one of the most popular grad school degrees continues to be the MBA. In survey findings released earlier this month, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) cited that 4 in 5 candidates say that a graduate business degree allows them to stand out at work (more than 80% of its 6,500 survey respondents). Despite the global pandemic and its disruption across sectors, most students who were asking, “should I go to grad school?” and “is grad school worth it?” continue to have a positive view of the potential benefit of a grad business degree for their career and personal growth.

That said, your motivations and future ambitions are the first filters for discerning whether grad school in general, or the MBA in particular, is right for you. The first things an admission committee wants confidence that you can answer for yourself are, “Why should I go to graduate school? And why this school?” Your ability to respond with clarity and confidence starts with your honest introspection about your own values, needs, and priorities.

What is Graduate School?

A graduate school offers students a deeper and more specialized education in their chosen field or academic discipline. A graduate degree is pursued after college completion (having obtained a bachelor’s degree). While the focus in undergrad is typically knowledge acquisition, grad school tends to encompass a more rigorous course of study.

That’s why answering, ‘what is grad school?’ should extend beyond the potential academic outcomes to experiential outcomes. The Master of Business Administration (MBA), for example, ­isn’t merely about cultivating better corporate managers. As Fortuna Co-Founder Judith Silverman Hodara explains in her article on advice for non-traditional applicants, “Really, business school should be called leadership school. The most important qualities for catalyzing meaningful change across the industries that shape our everyday lives have to do with inspiring innovation, galvanizing support, motivating others, and collaborating in service of a greater—often audacious—goal… Business school isn’t just about creating decision-makers—it’s about creating leaders and global citizens.”

Should I Go to Grad School?

So what kinds of factors are most important for your decision-making about going to grad school or not? As higher education professionals, we’re admittedly biased about the benefits of a well-chosen master’s degree to deepen your learning, expand your networks, and enhance your leadership capacity. But to set yourself up for success, you’ll want to take ample time to self-reflect. Even if you’re certain grad school is in your future, “when should I go to graduate school?” should be front of mind, too.

Here are five elements to consider:

1. Career goals

As a starting point, it’s valuable to consider both your long-term and short-term goals for pursuing a grad degree. Your long-term goal is generally where you plan to be at the peak of your career (answering the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”), while your short-term goals are the stepping stones that pave the way to get there. Short-term goals involve your near-immediate plans – either for an internship (if relevant) and/or two to three years post grad school. During this period, you should be acquiring specific expertise or skills that are essential for you to reach your long-term vision. (View this invaluable article by Fortuna’s Heidi Hillis on how to create a career vision.)

Caution: If you’re unsure what you want to do and why, you risk wasting your money and effort in applying before you’re ready to make the most of the opportunity. As mentioned, unlike college, grad school is for deepening your expertise in a particular study or discipline.

2. Network

The strength of a school’s alumni network offers a resounding endorsement for a program’s career opportunities. Some alumni networks are more geographically concentrated than others. Then there are mentors, faculty, and a school’s career services team, which are often dedicated to supporting your future career placement and future advancement as part of the school’s alumni community. In a Forbes interviewwith Fortuna’s Matt Symonds, entrepreneur Mariam Naficy cited network as the most valuable thing she took from grad school: “The network of friends, and really, future colleagues, was by far the most important thing.”

3. Brand recognition

Prestige is inherently subjective, but in terms of opening doors, a school’s brand recognition can be a major differentiator. And, it’s not just about the various grad school rankings, which can be tempting to overly rely on (especially at the outset). How might a school’s strengths and reputation, as well as the experiences and network it provides, support your career vision and post-grad job placement? While rankings can be useful, it’s just as easy to be misled by subjective definitions of “best schools” without a strong grasp of their algorithms and methodologies (which can vary wildly).

4. Culture and personality

Nothing will give you a better sense of a school’s culture and personality than a campus visit. Remember – this is where you’ll be spending the next few years of your life. Beyond your feelings about the location itself, what’s the overall “vibe” of the school? Who does it attract, and what kind of environment does it nurture? When you speak with alumni and current students (and you should), do you sense a more competitive classroom or a collaborative environment? Remember: It’s not just about whether you’re a fit for the school, but also whether the school is a good fit for you.

5. Affordability and ROI

Return on investment (ROI) goes beyond post-grad starting salaries and is inherently individual. That said, you’re foregoing your salary at the same time you’re laying out tuition payments, so affordability and ROI should be part of your equation. For example, MBA rankings conducted by Forbes are based exclusively on ROI and drawn from pre-and post-MBA compensation, location, and career choice. (Attending a top MBA program can boost your salary by as much as 60-150%, for example, while other degrees will yield only single-digit increases.) If you’re tempted to pursue a lower-ranked school because of tuition cost, consider that ROI may also be lower. Better programs have heftier price tags but usually pay greater long-term dividends.

Is Grad School Worth It?

You want confidence that your favored grad schools are poised to advance your career aspirations and goals. At the end of the day, it’s not about prestige, post-grad salaries, or number of job offers. It’s about envisioning the professional you want to become and defining the qualities you care about most in a grad school experience. Your discerning approach and careful research ensure you’re spending your time and effort on schools that will be the best fit for you. Ultimately, the better you get to know the programs of your choice, the greater your chances of acceptance.

Requirements for Going to Grad School

While admissions requirements vary between programs and disciplines, the application for top grad schools may include:

  • Exam scores (like the GMAT or GRE)
  • Written essays and/or video essay questions
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Data forms (including college transcripts)
  • Admissions interview

In reviewing your application, the admissions committee will want to see clarity of purpose, consistency in your presentation, a track record of excellence, and a compelling narrative. You’ll also need to connect the dots between where you’ve been and where you’re going – if you’re hoping to make a career pivot, you’ll need to prove not just your passion but also your preparedness for your chosen path. At the end of the day, grad school admissions are responsible for building a diverse class and will be assessing not only your skill and preparedness but what contribution you stand to make to the classroom and school community.

Let Fortuna Admissions Help You Secure an MBA

Seeking out the different types of MBA programs is an excellent way to jumpstart your career, and Fortuna Admissions is here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation with our MBA admissions coaches and discover why we’re consistently rated as the best in the industry.

Fortuna Admissions is a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors and Officers from the world’s top business schools, including Wharton, INSEAD, Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, LBS, Columbia, Kellogg, Chicago Booth, IE, MIT Sloan, Duke Fuqua, UCLA Anderson, Johnson Cornell, UVA Darden, Yale SOM, NYU Stern, and Berkeley Haas. With our unparalleled collective expertise, we’ll coach you to develop a clear vision of your goals for business school and beyond.

Want More Advice?

Check out our team’s latest articles, videos, and analyses related to grad school and MBA admissions on the Fortuna Admissions blog.

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