6 Tips for Choosing a Grad School

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Making a decision about a graduate program is an extremely personal choice. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before investing a considerable amount of time and money.

So you want to go to grad school, but do you go full-time or part-time? What’s the difference, and how do you decide which is right for you? There are several factors to consider when weighing the options of a grad school program. Here are my top 6 things to keep in mind when choosing a grad school:

1. Quality of the Program

Are you seeking an above-average program, or are you open to any kind of graduate school degree?

If quality is an important factor for you, begin by looking at programs and seeing where they rank. See if they offer both part-time and full-time programs – if they do, make sure the quality of program is consistent between the two options.

2. Location

Are you willing to move to attend a better school? A more affordable school?

Thinking about location is a big deal – are you willing to move to go to the grad school of your choice? Will you be able to find full- or part-time work while you’re in the program? School is expensive enough as it is, so preparing for at least some amount of income is important, even if it’s just your grocery budget.

3. Employer tuition reimbursement

Does your current employer offer tuition reimbursement, and if so, to what value each year?

Some employers offer at least $5,200 per year of enrollment according to FinAid.org. (*Important note: often times it’s not $5,200 straight up, but $5,200 up to 80% of your tuition costs… i.e. to get the full $5,200, you’ll need to spend a total of $6,500 and you’re on the hook for $1,300). If that’s the case, and your employer will pay per year of enrollment, a part-time program that can be stretched over 3-5 years would be a more budget friendly option.  If your employer will pay 100% for either part-time or full-time, then you will have more options financially.

Another thing to be aware of is what (if any) catch there might be (i.e. many companies require that you remain with that company for an additional number of years after graduating from your program. Is this something you’re okay with?)

Lacking financial support from your employer, family or personal savings account? Grad school is an investment in your future, so incurring some debt might be worth it. 

4. Experience 

How long have you been in the workforce? Are you confident in leaving it for school?

This question unnerves me the most.  I know a lot of people who want to go straight from undergraduate school into a graduate program. Believe me, I understand.  I’m going to be starting an MBA program just 2.5 years after completing my undergraduate degree.  However, I am being very purposeful in my choice to enroll in a part-time MBA program so I can stay in the workforce and continue to gain experience.

5. GMAT and the GRE

Do you have the time or commitment level to get the GMAT/GRE score that you need to be competitive? Does the application process fit into your budget?

I just took the GMAT two months ago… and I started preparing 3 months before that. GMAT is a complex, time consuming, and extremely dry activity. After a LOT of work, I was able to take the exam and reach my goal, but for most people that's not the case.  This is especially true if you’re shooting for a score that will guarantee your competitiveness in top schools.  Another thing to consider is the cost of getting a good score.  Books can be expensive, not to mention the training courses that most schools recommend (mine cost $1300).  Not a minimal dent in your budget.

6. Employer Support

Do you work for an organization that supports you going back to school? Are they willing to be flexible with class schedules and studying time?

This is obviously a big component of the part- vs. full-time debate: will your employer be flexible enough for you to do part-time, and if not, does it make the most sense to just leave all together to knock it out full-time?

I recommend that you find an advocate within your organization with whom you can have an honest conversation about ALL of these things. See if they truly support your development, and if so, prove that you’re just as dedicated to them boss as they are to you. If they aren’t, it might not be a bad idea to explore other options (it never hurts to look).

Making a decision about a graduate program is a VERY personal choice, one that should take a lot of time and consideration. Find advocates who can give you advice related specifically to you and your lifestyle.

Written by Sara Dannenberg


This blog post is from the Author's perspective and doesn't speak for brightpeak financial. Contact brightpeak if you want to know more about brightpeak products, and keep in mind that they are not available in all states and there are some limitations (some exclusions and restrictions may apply).

 

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