In a nutshell: deciding to go to graduate school

by Peter Stokes

The vast majority of Penn alumni go on to graduate/professional school at some point (roughly 20% go immediately after graduation, and 70%+ go within 10 years of graduating). These are high numbers, and this seems to me an excellent thing, but it’s important that people go to the right kind of graduate school, and at the right time—and think carefully about what will happen after graduate school. Graduate school is demanding and can be expensive, and it’s important that you make an informed choice to make sure that the investment of time, effort and money is worthwhile. That may well mean waiting until after you have gained some experience other than being a student (a job, service work) before applying.

Here, in as small a nutshell as I can manage, are some good, and some much less good, approaches to deciding on graduate school:

  • Good reasons to go to graduate school:
    • You have figured out the career path you want to follow, at least in the medium term. You have done plenty of research, including talking with people who have advanced in your chosen field, and know that you need a graduate degree, and which one.
    • You love scholarly work with a passion (crucial for a Ph.D.), and are confident you will continue to for 2-5+ years of study of a narrow topic.
  • Bad reasons to go to graduate school:
    • You don’t know what else to do, or you assume there are no decent jobs for people with Bachelor’s degrees anyway. (Have you come in to talk to a counselor in Career Services?)
    • You’re really good at school, so you think you should keep on doing it. And maybe as a result, family or friends, not necessarily experts in the career(s) you’re interested in, have said you should go to grad school.

See also:  and of course feel free to connect with a pre-graduate school advisor!

Author: Peter

Peter Stokes is the Senior Associate Director of Career Services for the Pre-Grad/Pre-Law/Pre-Health team.