Once you have completed an undergraduate degree, you have many options: jobs, higher education, and many others. It is your duty to yourself and to your potential to choose the best possible next course of action. Investing in your own education even after going to college for your Bachelor’s degree is always wise.
But this is not a small decision.
A good graduate degree can supercharge your career to levels you cannot imagine. It can open doors worldwide, and change your life. But you have to choose the best one for yourself, and you have to make sure you can give the application the time and energy it needs, so that you get the most out of the work you put in.
Even before you start deciding which graduate program is best for you, you need to ask yourself if a Master’s degree is the right step for your career. Let’s get started with the important steps in deciding the most important career move of your life!
- How to determine if grad school is right for you
As with most other big decisions in your life, it will help to start by making a detailed list of pros and cons: what can a Master’s degree help you with, and what are the associated costs and downsides?
The positives of going to graduate school are many: the first and foremost is the boost it can give to your career. A larger pay package, access to senior roles, the ability to apply to jobs and research positions that were once not accessible to you: all these are positive effects that a grad school degree can have on your career. Another (less tangible) benefit is prestige and recognition; someone with an advanced degree is always looked at with more respect in local, regional, and international circles. Next, if you want to be on the cutting edge of advances in your field, it is always best to study for an advanced degree; you will get to experience the latest and greatest in your field a few decades before it becomes available to the general public. Finally, education is a great experience, and being around young, motivated, bright people is even better. Giving yourself more time in this nurturing environment is good for your emotional and professional development.
However, a Master’s degree comes with costs. There are the obvious up front costs of the tuition and housing fees, but they can be mitigated to a large extent by scholarships (if you do your research and due diligence well) and by long term student loans with flexible payback options. The other costs should also be taken into account: for the 2-5 years of your graduate degree, you will forgo the amount you might have earned in a job, had you not gone to grad school. Of course, your increased earning potential after graduation will see you recover this opportunity cost in a matter of a few years, but you need to be aware of this in advance. In addition, you will need to be very sure that the path you are taking (the exact discipline you want to specialize in) is one that you are definitely interested in and are good at – the commitment you will be making in terms of money, time, and mental energy is definitely not a small one, and you do not want to second guess your choice down the road.
Finally, you should make sure you are willing to put in the work required to get a Master’s degree. Especially if you are going to grad school abroad, you will need to spend a lot of time and energy in getting used to a new paradigm of education, where long nights of work will need to be spent to complete weekly assignments, and where studying one night a semester to pass each course is definitely not an option.
Once you have weighed all the options above, you should definitely speak to a few acquaintances who are currently in grad school in the country of your interest, and find out what their daily lives in the program are, and what their career prospects look like. Of course, speaking to experts (for example, the grad school career counsellors at Jamboree) is the final essential step – once you have made your decision, you need to get it verified by someone who has access to data from a wide range of profiles and over a long period of time.
- How to choose the right program
Once you are sure that grad school is for you, you need to look at the right program for yourself. This is always a strategic decision, and the game of mental chess you need to play will have two forces acting on your choice. The first is, of course, your qualification and interest. Based on your undergraduate degree, work experience, and extra-curricular aptitude, there will be a range of courses that you can realistically apply for and get into. However, choosing from among these should be a pragmatic decision based on what is best for your career.
Questions you should ask yourself at this point (once you have narrowed it down to, say, 5-10 programs) are: How good are my chances of getting an accept to a top 10 or a top 25 school in each of these? What market forces will act on me 2-3 years down the line, when I try to get a job or a research position in this field – will there be enough demand? If I choose each of these degrees and want to shift to a different discipline down the line, will there be opportunity? Will I be able to handle the workload in each of these?
This entire discussion will need data, and you will not have all of it. While talking to a counsellor or expert, make sure you get all the above questions answered. The best way to do things is to settle on a few programs or courses that have stood the test of time, and that have been chosen by many students worldwide, with great success. But always keep new trends in mind.
In the past decade, new Master’s degrees have emerged to challenge existing ones
For the longest time, the prevailing wisdom has been that, to build a top level career in business management (for example), the only degree that will get you anywhere is the MBA. To a large extent, that is still true. However, not every management student is created equal, and new Master’s degrees have emerged to cater to different profiles and different career requirements. For example, degrees like the Master’s in Engineering Management (MEM) have seen many technologically focussed professionals choose to become technocrats, by adding management and people skills to their already impressive array of engineering skills. These often cost less than an MBA would, and have a greater focus on building the kind of networks (for example, in Silicon Valley) that will be more suited to a technical profile trying to break into a management role.
- How to choose the right university / country
It is as important to choose the country and list of universities to apply to as it is to choose the kind of degree you want to apply for. After all, a grad degree from a top school in the USA has significantly more value for your career than a similar degree in India.
There are many factors to be considered as you shortlist countries to apply to. Worldwide rankings are an obvious criterion – since these are primarily based on employer perceptions and research output and facilities available. Ease of application and competition is another important filter: if your profile will not get you into any of the top 50 schools, for example, in your geography of choice, it is always best to apply elsewhere as a safe backup.
Once you have zeroed in on the country / countries of choice, and are fairly sure of the kind of program / degree you want to acquire, it is time to make a list of target universities. This is typically done fairly late in the application process, and starts with a straightforward matching process between the strength of your applicant profile, and the ranking of schools in your target country. A good expert will be able to tell you what rank range you can aspire for, and help you choose your dream grad schools and your safe grad schools.
Once you have a short list of geographies to apply to, and your dream schools in each, it is best to talk to a grad school counsellor and make sure that this fits your career aspirations. After all, the Return on Investment is the primary variable that will determine whether all the time you spend will be worth it. The following process will be followed to ensure that your exit options are all covered:
How to probe deeply into exit options after a graduate degree abroad
The choice of college and degree can be done quickly – pick the highest ranking ones in your country of interest that you can reasonably expect to have a shot at given your profile, and add a few “safe schools” as a backup, and then get to the application process.
However, if you want to do your due diligence (after all, there might be 50 highly ranked universities in your discipline of interest in your country of interest, but you cannot realistically apply to more than 10), you will need to probe more deeply. And some factors that will influence your choice (after the obvious ranking and likelihood of getting in) might be as seemingly trivial (but practically important) as the weather, campus life, and whether you have seniors who have studied there. But most important for any graduate degree choice is the exit options – whether you’re looking at a job in the industry or for a research position. All graduate programs will look attractive from the material they put out there; this section will tell you how to use Google and your own investigative skills to find the colleges that actually make a difference to your career chances.
- Qualifying for your dream Master’s programs
We will talk more in detail about how you can prepare for the tests whose scores you need to qualify for your programs of interest (the GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, etc) in future posts. In those posts, we will also cover how you can tailor your profile and present it in the best possible light in your admission material, so that you convert as many applications as possible.
However, all that we need to cover now is that the process of application is a long and complex one, but that it can be greatly simplified through institutional knowledge. For example, our experts at Jamboree will guide you through key success factors in the GRE or the GMAT, and give you tips on how to strengthen your application profile through the 12 months (for example) before you do apply. Finally, we will be able to guide you through the actual application process, and make sure that the best version of you shows up on paper (or in the electronic application) and that you are able to get into your dream graduate schools.
If you want to learn more about post college education options, and about the full suite of grad school application support services that we provide, do head over to jamboreeindia.com and book an appointment today!