You have decided to pursue graduate study. Way to go! Below are some questions many prospective graduate school students ask, along with my responses:
1. What if people are discouraging me from going to graduate school? How well do you know these individuals? If they are loved ones or friends you trust, do yourself a favor and listen.
However, they need to return the favor and listen to what you have to say. It is your life, and you do not want to look back one day and ask, "What if I'd gone ahead with my dream of a graduate education?"
2. What if I am thinking about grad school more for the credential or financial rewards than the educational and intellectual benefits? Join the club! Many individuals do not pursue a graduate degree just for the intellectual stimulation or because they desire to learn more. And there is nothing wrong with that.
However, do not forget the wonderful educational experience that awaits you as a graduate student. It is truly one of a kind.
3. How can I trust what I read about schools when the marketing information on the Web, in a video, or in printed materials basically sounds the same for many schools? As with any type of advertising, institutions want to put their best foot forward. They do so by using words, phrases, and clichés that sound similar.
Do not be surprised by this. If you dig deeper, you will be able to start making some helpful comparisons.
4. Should I be concerned that one of the schools on my list has been contacting me repeatedly and is starting to appear too desperate to recruit me? Almost everyone has stepped into the recruitment ring these days. There is competition at all levels, even at the most selective institutions.
As the competition increases for graduate students, so does the frequency of contact by institutions. It may be a bit difficult to distinguish between genuine interest and overkill, but follow your gut.
Does the contact seem reasonable? Are you being contacted more than once per week (which might be a bit excessive)? When the school officials contact you, do they provide new and helpful information? Are they respectful? Are they upbeat, but not begging you to apply all the time? Are they careful not to speak unkindly or inappropriately about other programs you may be considering?
5. What if going to graduate school seems financially impossible? This is definitely something to consider. It's helpful if you have at least one year's tuition in the bank before you enroll. Make sure you know what financial aid you can receive, including loans, scholarships, assistantships, fellowships, work study, etc.
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Do some financial planning, and consider meeting with a financial adviser, or with trusted relatives, loved ones, and friends. Cover all the bases, and don't leave anything to chance. Don't apply to graduate school if you haven't planned for the financial responsibilities you're about to assume.
Originally published at USNews.com on September 14, 2012.