What Am I Going To Do When I Grow Up?

Posts Tagged ‘graduation

When looking for specific graduate programs, students frequently ask me about college rankings.

Of course, you can turn to resources like US News & World Report College Rankings if you just want some ideas of programs that might be worth looking at.   However, much has been written about the issues with these rankings.  I’ll sum it up this way:

  • These rankings often look at the entire university or college and often do not address the specific strength or weakness of a programs like music, law, or pharmacy within the university.
  • Even when the rankings break down to department, program, or school, rankings do not speak to specific strengths or weakness of specializations within a field.  For example, a top ranked law program may not actually focus or offer much on entertainment law.  Or, a well-ranked English program might not do much in the area of Post-Modern literature.  Even though a program is “good” doesn’t mean their focus matches your interests.   Every program has to make choices about what they want to be known for and they can’t be good at everything no matter how big the program is.
  • Rankings capture what people in the past think or report in response to cryptic questions.  Rankings do not speak to where a program may go in the future.  They can be a good indicator of central funding or on going support, but if the only faculty member teaching music cognition leaves the program and that’s what you came to study… well, it doesn’t bode well for your future studies in the program.

So, how can you do good research into programs?  Well, start by reading my previous posts on graduate schools.  Then, a next great step is to regularly read The Chronicle.  You can see trends in programs.  You can look at the facts and figures available regarding salary and opportunities.  And, you can ask questions in the forum.

There are many such resources along the way.  Use them all.  It’s a process and great research on the path to well-thought out decisions doesn’t happen over night.  Research and uncertainty are just part of the gig and are deeply understandable.  Anyone considering graduate school at moments gets overwhelmed, frustrated, and annoyed.   So, one thing you can do for yourself is to connect with others who are in the same place.  Sharing resources and experiences can be very helpful .  It provides support and a good catalyst for making progress.

Sending fabulous energy!

So, if you are just getting started in thinking about graduate school, it’s still a great time to start looking for specific programs.  Consider when you started looking for colleges when you were in high school?  What year was that?  When did your PARENTS start thinking about it?  Well, that’s about when you might start thinking about graduate school in comparison.

Even if you are fully in-swing with the graduate school application process, read on.  It’s likely there are things you might still be able to do or questions to consider that make this process really pay off.

So much of the search for the right graduate program starts with knowing yourself.   The process of getting to know more of what you want is always on-going as the further you get into researching programs the more refined your questions will become and more details will surface.  Here’s some starter ways you might find and research great programs:

1.  start with taking a look at favorite articles  and books you have read in class, in the library, or online that are related to the discipline you wish to study in graduate school.

  • who wrote those articles?  where have they studied?
  • where might they actually currently teach or have some connection?

2.  go the library, ideally a large university or city library with lots of resources and look for professional journals that appeal to you.  if you are enrolled, you likely have access to many of these articles in online databases and can search by key words, authors, and phrases.

  • which university names come up frequently in articles that rock your world?
  • which universities have published articles or books that you enjoy?
  • which programs and faculty names do you see referenced in recent interesting research articles?

3.  start with your current or alum university graduate students in similar or related programs.

  • what other programs did they apply to?  what about where their peers applied or went?
  • what programs do they recommend?
  • what would they share with you about the whole process?
  • what do they wish they had known before they started?

Not sure if you should stay in school and plan for graduate school or graduate into a weak job market?

It’s admittedly an understandable strategy.  School is what you know.  Sure, you might be tired of it, but often people find that what is known and unpleasant is preferred to that which is unknown and therefore scary.

At the same time, graduate school is a major investment in specializing within a discipline or field and typically provides very specific training and research opportunities.   Grad school is best engaged in consciously, deliberately chosen and part of a genuine career plan…it’s really not a  place to hide out or avoid the question of what you are truly going to do in life.

There are really many paths to graduate school and that’s really important to remember.  It is NOT crucial to go directly to graduate school after college.  In fact, depending on the program, taking time between college and graduate school to work, travel, volunteer, and gain experience in life, ranges from improving acceptance rates to actually being required.

There are basically 2 schools of thought on this issue:

  1. Many people argue that taking time off of school puts you are risk of never going back to graduate school and you should go while you have the school momentum going for you.  Additionally, some career fields cannot be entered unless you’ve earned a graduate degree.    Of course, if the ONLY reason you are going forward to graduate school is inertia, it’s unlikely to be a successful and rewarding experience.   Weigh out the costs/benefits carefully.  Graduate school is very expensive and a huge professional investment.  Of course, there are also inarguable benefits to graduate degrees and the career fields they open access to.
  2. Others argue that taking time off between degrees allows people to grow, gain experience, and avoid school burnout or fatigue.  Additionally, some graduate programs actually require that people gain work experience or  do post-baccalaureate travels or internships in order to be competitive for their programs.   Many people who choose to apply to graduate programs later in life make more conscious choices about programs, research them more completely, and find the program to be a more rewarding experience, personally and professionally.  This is not always the case.

So what might you do?  Well, start with thinking about the following:

  • Why are you thinking about graduate school?   If you are going because you don’t know what else to do in life, don’t go until you are really clear on why you are going and how it will translate into a career.  Just a vague feeling that graduate school might be helpful for you is not enough.  If you are on a mission and this graduate program fulfills a particular goal in a larger career plan that has been realistically and fully researched, then graduate school is likely part of a good path for you.
  • How motivated do you feel about school right now?  On a scale of 1-10, where do you fall?
    • If going to school, leaves you moaning and groaning and wishing for something else, than put grad school planning on hold right now.  Choose career planning instead.  If at a later time graduate school is something that is part of a well-thought career plan, you will be motivated to go back.
    • If the opportunity to study, discuss, write, research, and work-harder-longer- hours-than-you-ever-have-imagined-working-in-your-life on a life quest makes your eyes shine bright, then graduate school might be heaven for you.

So, if you aren’t sure about whether or not you want to go to graduate school, that’s wonderful.  It’s good to ask questions.  To not question your decisions at all isn’t good planning.  It’s bullheaded and likely to lead to ill-conceived plans of all sorts.  Questioning leads to better answers.  Better answers leads to better decisions.

If it’s helpful, I question my career decisions all the time.  It’s when I can’t find answers that I know I need to do more research.  The issue isn’t questioning, it’s not questioning when it comes to great research.  And great research is really what graduate programs are about.   So, start asking great questions of yourself and those that can help illuminate the way.  Enjoy the process…

Sending fabulous energy!

For you, what is the value of a degree? Where is the value of a degree? When is the reward or success of a degree?

What do you think?  What would it mean to know?

So, what IS the value of a degree? Does it guarantee an educated person? Does it ensure meaningful employment? Any employment? What about success? or happiness?

A lot of people hyper-focus on the completion of the degree.   Often we feel we “have to” complete the degree so we can get on with our lives.  When we do that, we work from the standpoint that education is something we must “get through.”  This deeply affects the quality of our education because if we aren’t engaged, it reduces our ability to articulate our knowledge and transfer our skills to new situations.   This impacts our satisfaction, our happiness, our success…

So, what motivates you?  what is graduation about for you?  …and how are you on planning your career?