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Graduate School: Is it for Me (Now)?

Graduate school can bring many rewards, but you should be aware that it involves a huge commitment of time, money and energy. Going to graduate school is not a decision to be taken lightly, and there are several things you should consider carefully before going through the application process.

Good Reasons to Go to Graduate School

   » You are looking to change your career or advance in your career.
   » You would like to pursue an area of research. You might like to contribute to an area of thought, theory, or philosophy. You might dream of discovering something hidden in the archives of history that will shed new light on how we perceive a past civilization. You might discover something new about how our brains process emotions. Unique research means that you will add knowledge through research or experiments that will contribute to the growth of your respective field.

The best way to determine what type of research you are interested in conducting is to try it out.
As a leading research university, USC offers unique and unparalleled field research opportunities for undergraduates. 

Where to find research opportunities:

Problems without Passports: /problems-without-passports/
Maymester: /maymester/

Poor Reasons to Go to Graduate School

These are unlikely to lead to success once you get there.
   » You don't know what else to do. There are no jobs right now anyway.
   » You just want to delay the moment when you leave school and have to find a job.
   » You just think you won't be able to get a job unless you go to graduate school.
   » You are being pressured into going by family, friends, or teachers.

A Major Commitment

Going to graduate school is a major commitment, and should never be merely a way to postpone career planning and job seeking. It is a decision you need to make for yourself, and only after careful consideration. Remember that in many careers it may be more advisable to gain work experience than to pursue a graduate degree (or it might be better to seek the degree after you have work experience). What research have you done into the array of careers available to people with a bachelor's degree in your major? Have you contacted people already in the fields you are interested in to find out what their career paths were, and to ask for advice? Have you used a variety of job search methods? You may well find it helpful to meet with a career counselor to start with (see http://careers.usc.edu/ ).

Ask Yourself If...

   » You understand what graduate school involves and what it costs.
   » You have considered all your options thoroughly before making a commitment.
   » Graduate school really is necessary for you to achieve your professional goals.
   » You are sure you know what you'll be studying - carefully research the programs and departments you are interested in applying to.
   » You know how you will finance graduate school. Look into tuition and living expenses, and what kinds of loans, fellowships or assistantships might be available to you.
   » You would be better off postponing graduate school. Should you get work experience first? Are you burnt out after years of studying? (Note that some - but certainly not all - institutions will allow you to apply now but defer admission and even fellowships for one or two years.)

Taking a Year (or More) Off

If you do decide to take a year or more off before applying to graduate or professional school, there are still some things you can do before you leave school. You should consider taking your standardized test while you are still in school mode; GRE and GMAT scores can be reported up to five years after you take the test. Also you should talk to any faculty you might ask for letters of recommendation before you leave campus. Let them know of your plans - they may give you good advice, and they may also be willing to put a letter or notes on file now so as to better be able to write a letter later. You should then stay in touch with these faculty members after you leave - that way they will more easily remember who you are!