How to Make a Graduate School Strategy
for Long-Term Success
Where are you now, where do you want to go, and how are you going to get there?
These are three critical strategic questions to ask before exploring your next academic endeavor. You might be wrapping up your undergraduate degree and planning the next steps in your higher-ed journey, or you’ve been in the field for several years and want a leg up in the next stage of your career. Whatever your reasoning, deciding to pursue a graduate degree is a nuanced and intricate process.
While no one can make this big decision better than you, we’ve walked through the process with many students and want to highlight a few elements to consider before applying to grad school.
This two-part article breaks down the strategy and planning process of applying to grad school. Part one covers the strategic aspects of the decision-making process you should walk through before you jump into the practical aspects of planning. Let’s dive in!
Research Your Field
Which career direction do you want to take: Academia or Industry?
Academia is concerned with the pursuit of knowledge and education. The world of Academia is ideal for those interested in research and teaching. Degrees like a PhD in Psychology will give you opportunities for research or time in the classroom as a professor if that’s the path you wish to pursue.
Industry refers to the companies and organizations that produce or supply goods and services (Britannica). Going in the industry direction will open the door for careers with businesses and organizations of your specialty. Whereas Academia tends to emphasize reaching the highest degree in your field, industry sectors do not always demand a PhD to achieve great success. For example, students who earn their Master’s in Counseling can go on to practice as counselors within organizations, schools, and private practices.
What is the job market like?
What is the job market like now? What is it projected to be? One resource we recommend using when you consider these questions is the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. They collect a significant amount of data on trends within the labor market and often have critical insights you should take into consideration when making these decisions.
If you are wondering more about pay and opportunities in your immediate area, check out Glassdoor, a workplace review website that gives you insight into actual pay across the fields you are considering down to the specific organization you might be interested in working for.
Will it provide a lifestyle that’s sustainable for you?
How many years are you willing to commit to a graduate program? The degree and career you choose to pursue will have a measurable impact on your work-life balance, beginning in grad school. From combined master’s and doctoral five-year programs to the traditional two-year graduate program, there may be multiple options within the degree you are seeking.
Another factor to consider when choosing a program is your weekly workload, during grad school and after. Some programs allow you to continue working a full- or part-time job while in school. Others require your undivided attention. Beyond grad school, certain industries and careers can have widely differing workloads and hours. Considering what you want your weekly work lifestyle to look like after college may impact the degree you want to pursue. There’s no right or wrong answer here — only you know what you want your life to look like post-graduation.
Does it align with your core personal values?
It’s hard for something to be sustainable if your heart’s not in it. Pursuing a degree beyond undergrad means you care about something deeply enough to commit more of your life to better understand it. While this might sound obvious, we’ve seen students fall into the trap of familial or societal expectations when pursuing a graduate degree. Just because a career might be appealing due to increased income or prestige, doesn’t mean that it will mesh well with what you value in the long run.
Research Your Schools
Where do you want to live while going to school?
Where you live while attending grad school matters regardless of whether you join a 2-year or a 5-year program. Location matters because it can impact your happiness, access to support systems, and proximity to great resources. Big cities like Portland, where Multnomah is located, can be great thanks to their unique internship and long-term career opportunities and access to fun experiences.
If you are moving states away from your family, the perk of having a big international airport right in town is also something to consider. Online graduate programs can also be a great option if you are looking for more control over where you choose to live; here are a few online programs that Multnomah offers.
Do they have the program you are looking for?
While this may sound like a no-brainer, it’s easy to get fixated on a school because of its notoriety or status and pick it just for that, even if they don’t have the specific programs or concentrations best suited for you in the long run. Make sure you follow the path that is right for you, not everyone else.
Do they have support and career services to help with placement post-graduation?
A good graduate degree program will have great connections with local organizations and be prepared to make introductions that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Internships, fellowships, and residencies are all common components of graduate programs, and knowing whether the schools you are considering have connections should factor into your final decision.
Consider Your Future and Values
Can you see yourself doing this 10, 15, and 20 years from now?
You will commit significant time, money, and energy toward your graduate degree. Before you make your decision, consider the long-term implications. If you can’t see yourself doing the same work in a decade, maybe it’s not the right fit, even if it seems like it is right now.
How does this work connect with your calling?
While your career can be part of your calling, it is only a chapter of your story. At Multnomah, we believe God has a calling for each person’s life. Some might have their calling revealed during undergrad—we put a serious emphasis on that here at Multnomah. Yet, God may take his time unraveling his plans for the lives of others. Before you pursue a graduate degree, we encourage you to spend time in prayer and conversation with the folks who know you best to discern your calling and how the graduate program you are considering connects with it.
Does the school you are looking at align with your values?
We have talked about your field of study aligning with your values, but does the school itself have similar values? You are investing a significant amount of money in the institution you choose for your graduate program. Are they furthering a mission that you’ll value even after you graduate? Most schools’ websites have information on their values, but the best way to learn the soul of a school is by talking to their admissions counselors and the professors from the program you are considering.
These strategic considerations will arm you with the “why” before you jump into the “what” of planning. Once we know why we are doing something, the rest of the process is a matter of fitting the puzzle pieces together.
Ready to jump into planning? Head here for part two of Multnomah’s series on considerations to make before applying to grad school.
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