You do not have to go…that’s the biggest difference between graduate school and the other stages of the educational ladder.
There are a few professions where an advanced degree is absolutely required (law, medicine, psychology), and a few more where the difference in pay would be so much that you would be stupid if you did not (most notably, teaching).
But for the most part, graduate school is something you do not have to do.
That said, if you ever plan on teaching at the college or university level, or if you plan on advancing to the uppermost ranks of your company or profession, a graduate degree is probably time and money well spent.
Once you have made the initial decision to go, you must make the decision of which schools you will apply to. This is not an easy decision, nor should it be. Here are a few tips to help you along in the process.
1. Apply to at least 3 schools – The more schools you apply to, the better your chances of being accepted. Also, during the application process, many grad schools will ask what other schools you’ve applied at. Applying at 3 or more schools shows graduate committees that you’re serious about pursuing graduate studies.
2. Choose the best possible school for the field you want – This is especially important if you plan on teaching at the college level in the future. U.S. News and World Report offers their annual Graduate Schools edition that you can look at to see where each school ranks in your field. Otherwise, call your undergraduate professors, get their recommendations, and make them your short list.
3. Send all the supplemental materials you possibly can – These help compliment your basic application and help set you apart in the minds of the admissions committee. Articles you’ve had published, academic papers, and research are always good things to send along with your app.
4. Consider whether or not it might be a good idea to wait – In some professions, particularly elementary, junior high and high school teaching, it is a better idea to wait a few years to get a graduate degree. In many cases, after a few years of teaching, your district will pay all or most of the cost of your graduate degree, and you run the risk of overqualifying yourself if you try to get a first teaching job while already clutching a Master’s degree.