Application Consulting: Is Graduate School Right for Me?

Posted by Sophie Pauze on 11/8/13 12:09 PM

MBA application

For the past year, I’ve been preparing myself to apply to business school. I’ve spent countless hours doing GMAT prep with a GMAT tutor (i.e. an enormous amount of math problems), and reflecting a lot about why I was even pursuing business school admissions.

After months of planning leading up to the January application cycle, I recently made the decision to chuck the whole thing, and opt out of the process. While the decision to bail on business school took me by surprise, and wrought a brief existential dilemma, I am now really clear about my decision to leave the league of aspiring business school students.

The decision to apply to graduate school is a big one. Where you go to graduate school and what you study will set the course for your career and your network as a working professional. Also, graduate school costs time and money. Serious, serious money.  A bad or rash decision will cost you the big bucks, to say nothing of anywhere from one to seven years of your life (depending on the kind of degree you pursue).

Applying to graduate school is a decision that people make for all different reasons. Here are some of the reasons I initially grasped at, and some most common statements I’ve heard from other aspiring applicants:

  • I will earn more money after graduating.
  • This degree will help me advance my career.
  • I feel pressure from my parents / job market to do this.
  • This graduate degree will lead me to the right path, but I’m not sure what it is now.
  • I am passionate about this field and would like to dedicate my career to it.
  • I am looking for intellectual stimulation and I am somewhat interested in this field, so I would like to deepen my knowledge by getting this degree.
  • I need to go to graduate school before I age out.

Let’s evaluate each statement:

  • I will earn more money after graduating.
    • Okay, so most people would like to earn more money. But consider this: will your projected increase in salary balance out the debt you incur during graduate school?
  • The degree will help me advance my career.
    • Think hard about whether this is true or not. This is where I got stuck. I realized that I actually had the kind of job I would want after I graduated, so the logic didn’t follow. But, in some industries (medical school, for example), an advanced degree is very much necessary, even indispensable. Is your degree indispensable? 
  • I feel pressure from my parents / society to do this.
    • If this rings true to you, then do not apply! Graduate school should be all about your professional and personal development. Do you want to be stuck doing something you aren’t interested in for several years, and possibly for the rest of your career? Don’t go through the business school admissions process because your Dad thinks it’s a good idea. Instead of applying, figure out what moves you need to make and go for it!
  • This graduate degree will lead me to the right path, but I’m not sure what it is now.
    • Many students go to graduate school hoping that they’ll come out being able to answer the question “What do I want to be when I grow up?” First of all, many of my fifty year-old pals still don’t know the answer to that question, and actually fell into their careers via a meandering path. Stop trying to fit into a box; you’ll get there! Secondly, if you don’t know what you’ll get out of the degree and how it will serve you, it’s an awfully expensive and time-consuming way to find out. Discover the answer by doing some research, or taking a risk and trying out jobs in a range of industries.
  • I am passionate about this field and would like to dedicate my career to it.
    • This is the best reason there is. Passionate about philosophy, electrical engineering, or linguistics? A PhD may very well be the right thing for you, so start to consider PhD admissions. Enjoy!
  • I am looking for intellectual stimulation and I interested in this field, so I would like to deepen my knowledge.
    • This is not airtight. There are a lot of ways to learn and if you’re merely curious, you risk becoming a dilettante with a very large bill when you graduate. Consider signing up for part-time coursework or hitting up the library before you decide to apply.
  • I need to go to graduate school before I age out.
    • In most cases, this is a fallacy. It’s true that certain types of degrees prefer younger applicants, but not in all, or most, fields. If your application makes a clear case for admission, you’ll likely get in at any age.

In the weeks leading up to my decision to ditch the application process, I considered my reasons for going to school.  My internal conflict led me to this question: how would graduate school help me do better at what I wanted to do when I graduated? I came to the conclusion that I really wasn’t sure. Signing up for $200K of debt and giving up 2 years of doing something that I enjoyed and was fulfilled by led me to realize that B-school no longer made sense for me.

So, ask yourself the question: “How will graduate school help me do better at what I want to do when I graduate?” A clear answer will provide peace of mind, but also make you application more convincing and compelling if you do apply. I can tell you that I feel a whole lot better now, having made the decision to sit this one out. I didn’t realize that the decision I had hastily imposed on myself was really wearing me thin. 

What’s the moral of the story? Before you dive into test prep and applications, make yourself reason through the decision to apply. If you’ve already started to prepare your applications, now is the time to be real with yourself. It’s not easy to let go after investing time and energy in the process, but you know what?  That's what economists call a “sunk cost.” (See?  Who needs B-school?)  The worst thing you can do with a sunk cost is double down on it.  Instead, cut bait.  You’ll move past it and you’ll probably give yourself big thanks in the future. 

And remember: there’s always next year!

 

Tags: MBA admissions, graduate admissions