It may seem as though it was only yesterday that you were worrying about the college admission process and then sending your freshman off to her first year of college. How can she be at the point that she is now considering graduate school?
Seeking a graduate degree is on the minds of many college students. Obviously, some students are just ready to be done with school (at least for a while) and can’t wait to finish college. Others, however, may have been inspired by a topic or field of study and are considering further study. Some students have chosen a career that requires a graduate degree for employment or certification.
If your student is considering graduate study, be prepared to be less involved in the process this time around. Your student is in charge. One area where you may be most helpful in the first stages of considering graduate school is in helping your student think through whether more school is the right move. Attending graduate school is not as automatic after college as college often is after high school.
What should your student consider in making the decision about graduate school?
Help your student think about her reasons for graduate school and the realities of that path. Here are a few questions you can ask her to consider:
- Is she thinking about more school because she can’t decide what else she wants to do? Is school the only thing she knows and feels comfortable doing? Does she view herself as a ”professional student?”
- Does she see graduate school as an alternative because she is afraid that she won’t get a job?
- Is she looking at a career that requires a graduate degree? Is the expectation that she will get that degree immediately, or could she work in the field for a while first?
- Has she been inspired by some topic or research area that she wants to study further?
- Is she hoping to teach at the college level, which usually requires a Ph.D?
- Could she consider finding a job in her chosen field that might eventually pay for further education?
- Will she be able to afford graduate school immediately? How much debt is she (or you) willing to take on?
- Is she considering full time graduate study or can she pursue a degree part-time while working?
- What kind of school should she consider? Will it require a move to a new location? Is there an online program that might work?
- Is the return on investment going to be worth it? What return does she expect? Will this increase earning power? Career advancement?
- Is she feeling pressured by anyone to continue school? Family? Significant other? Current professors? Employer?
- Might a degree be more meaningful and make more sense after a few years of real work experience?
Should you be involved in the graduate school process?
So your student has decided that graduate school is the next step. Here are a few things to think about as you consider your place in this process.
- DO ask your student many of the questions above to help her determine whether graduate school is the best next step for her right now.
- DO help your student think through the financial implications of graduate school. Help her put together a budget if she doesn’t already have one. Help her understand financial aid, loans and debt payments. If you handled much of the financial aspects of college, this may be new to your student, but it’s time for her to take over.
- DO encourage your student to get started on the application process early. Graduate school applications are often more complex and have more parts than undergraduate applications. Make sure your student knows whether she will need to take any graduate entrance exams (GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT) and takes time to prepare.
- DO encourage your student to take ownership of the process. If you are worried about how your student will handle and organize the process, set up one initial meeting with your student to get started, then step away. If you continue to worry, ask yourself (and your student) whether she is ready for the rigors of graduate school?
- DON’T ask to read your student’s application or edit her personal statement. While this may have been appropriate during college applications, it should not be necessary now.
- DON’T call the graduate admission office on your student’s behalf or follow up on anything with the school. Your student needs to handle this. If you call or are involved, you may actually hurt your student’s admission chances. Graduate schools are looking for students who are mature, organized, and independent. Having a parent involved is not a good sign.
- DO wait to be asked for input before you give it. If asked, give it — sparingly — and then step back again. Be supportive, but not heavily involved.
- DON’T go underground by asking to be blind copied on emails, write emails pretending to be your student, or listening in on phone calls with college personnel. (Yes, some parents do this.)
- DO help your student get ready to prepare for exams, but DON’T get involved in the process. Perhaps offer to buy an exam prep book or pay for a prep course, but do not try to tutor your student for entrance exams.
- DON’T try to influence your student’s decision — either about attending graduate school or which school to attend. You may not agree with her choices, but it is time for your student to make those choices. Ask questions for her to consider, then let her make her decisions.
- DO provide support by listening, helping her process her thoughts, and simply by being there.
- DO help your student process her disappointment if she is not admitted to the program that she chooses. Just as with college admissions, it can feel devastating to be rejected — especially if your student feels this is the best program for her.
- DO help your student look at new options. Should she consider other schools? Wait for a while to build her resume before applying again? Help her create a viable Plan B.
Graduate school can be an exciting next step for many students if it is a carefully thought through decision. There is still a place for parents in this process, but it is less involved than earlier admissions processes. It is time for the adult in your child to shine — and that can sometimes be a bittersweet moment for parents. Take pride in your student’s success so far and her sense of purpose about her future.