Grad school can be difficult. Is it for you?


Denise Barajas

The end of the semester is just a few weeks away, and the fork in the road where graduating seniors must decide between going to graduate school, starting their careers or taking time off is no longer avoidable.

For students who are graduate school bound, graduating may just be another step in the master plan they have already set in motion. However, for graduating seniors or upperclassman who do not have their futures planned out as well, graduating and facing the real world can be rather daunting. If you are among the many students losing sleep over your lack of a solid “after-college” plan, then taking some time off might be in your best interest.

Often times, students rush into graduate school out of fear they might lose their momentum while working in the “real world.” However, if done right, taking time off can help students find some clarity and give students who might not currently be competitive candidates for the programs they would like to apply to some time to improve their curriculum vitiates.

“I think the most important thing to take away from that time off, is that it’s not time off. It is time to build relevant experiences,” said Professor Megan Heinicke, an assistant professor in the psychology department. “Whether that be through research or work and applied experience, that’s what you should be using your time off for.”

As a member who sits on the interviewing board for the highly competitive Applied Behavior Analysis graduate program on campus, Heinicke said, “If you go and take this fantastic vacation that’s wonderful. However, your CV in your application packet is going to look the same as it did the year before, and that is not a good way to market yourself. So, if you are going to take time off, you best make it productive.”

Between graduate school applications, GRE and subject exams, transcripts and other miscellaneous graduate school expenses, applying for graduate school alone can become a pretty pricey endeavor. Not to mention, if you are unsure about what type of career you would like to pursue or what area is the right fit for you, this whole process can easily become a painstaking experience on your bank account that you might be better off postponing.

Speech pathology major and graduating senior Vanessa Peila said, “with all the money it takes to apply and the time and the stress, it’s not an easy thing to go through, especially if you are not sure what you want to do, because you might end up spending a bunch of money on something you are not happy with.”

As someone who is currently going through the application process for graduate school, Peila gave some words of advice for other students: “If you are not ready for it and you are not sure what you want to do there’s nothing wrong with taking the time off,” she said. “You’ve got your bachelor’s, go do something with it. If you are not happy with it, then go back and get your Masters in a year.”

Peila continued, “I just applied to graduate school, but I’ve learned and I’ve accepted that if I don’t get in I’m going to be OK. Even though I know as a speech pathology major I need this, I know I’m going to be fine if I don’t go.”

To avoid the hassle Peila mentioned, some important questions to ask prior to applying anywhere should include: Can I afford going to graduate school? If not, how will I pay for my school expenses otherwise? Do I even need a Masters or Ph. D in the field I am interested in? With my current grades, volunteer/research experience, what are my chances of getting into graduate school? If you are a student on the fence about graduate school, these are all valuable questions you should be asking.

Students in this situation may often find that taking some time to consult others whom they trust with their possible plans and seeking advice from faculty members in their department might be the best way for them to find some clarity.

“If students know they want to go to graduate school but aren’t entirely sure about what area they would like to go into, I would highly recommend them gaining some hands-on experience in whatever field they might be interested in,” said Becky Penrod, an assistant psychology professor.

Heinicke said students should not be afraid to approach their department’s faculty members for advice if they are unsure about what career path to pursue.

“I feel like students sometimes get too scared to talk to us, and I understand that because when I was an undergraduate I was super intimated by my adviser,” said Heinicke. “However, once I got over that, he started to know me, and he started to point me in the direction of other opportunities I would not have known about had I not made that connection.”

If you are a student interested in graduate school but are unsure about how to get there or what area you would like to apply to, use your campus resources to help get informed. Most faculty members are eager to talk to students about this topic and various campus departments throughout the semester hold workshops specifically about graduate school. To find out when and where workshops are being held through out the school year, check out the campus calendar routinely for program updates via: