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Katie Johnson | Bethel University (MN)

Some decisions are easier to make than others. Changing lanes when you’re stuck behind someone going slow on a freeway—no brainer. Meal planning for the week when you have picky eaters in your household—a bit trickier. Applying for graduate school when your life is stressful enough as it is—might as well climb Everest. 

We’re here to help you through the very first step of the process: determining whether or not you should go to grad school at all. We encourage you to think through these questions as gently and honestly as you can. There are no wrong or right answers. 

Why do you want to go to grad school? 

If you’re absolutely certain that you want to pursue a career that requires a graduate degree, maybe your question isn’t whether or not you should go to graduate school, but when. Maybe you want to advance your career. After working as a nurse for a number of years, you might want to teach the incredible practice of nursing in a higher education role. To apply for that upper management position, attaining your M.A. in Strategic Leadership might give you the skills and edge on other applicants. Maybe you want to deepen your faith and understand the Bible in a transformative way by pursuing your M.A. in Christian Thought. Your focus might not be on the outcome at all, but the journey. Maybe you’re bored with your life as it is, and you feel yourself getting restless for change. You’ve always liked school, so finding a graduate program might be just the thing for you refine your purpose and reach your goals. Determining why you want to go to graduate school is an excellent foundation for further wrestling with this decision. 

What do you hope to gain from going to graduate school? 

Maybe this is as simple as: you hope to gain the educational requirements and experience to pass your desired field’s licensing exam. Maybe you want to switch careers altogether, and you need to be qualified in a different way. Maybe you want to explore a new location, and graduate school will give you opportunities to organically cultivate a new community. Maybe you want to connect with folks in fine art fields and form invaluable connections to help you break into the publishing industry. Maybe you want to know everything possible about conducting music in hopes of producing your own symphony. Understanding what you hope to gain will help you prepare for assignments and group projects.

Do you think your life is suited for graduate school right now? 

If the application deadline is flying toward you and you really don’t know if you want to go to graduate school, examine your life and feel out if this is perhaps the best time to continue your education. If you are unsure if you want to be a doctor, don’t apply for medical school right now. If you just paid off your student loans, determine if you have the financial resources to manage paying for school. If you want to move across the country to go to school but don’t feel safe moving during a pandemic, it’s okay to wait until things prove a little more certain. Find ways to test out programs, like taking a class during J-term or enrolling for individual electives to see how your life reacts to assignments and studying.  

How will you know grad school is right for you?   

It’s important to know how you’ll know—even if you can’t articulate the details. Are you waiting for the Holy Spirit’s direction? If so, make sure you’re looking, listening, and open to feedback in unexpected places. It might be helpful to deliberately process your graduate school options with an intentional group of people in your life. Gather a mentor, former professor, family member, coworker, or roommate and talk about this important decision. They can help you discern what’s best for you through their unique perspectives and investment in your life. Start the application process, and if you’re flying through the process and find yourself excited about what comes next—maybe that’s your answer. Listen to your gut. Even if you’re actively wrestling with all your options, a small, quiet part of you knows. You have permission to trust yourself in the knowing. 

We hope these areas of self-examination prove helpful as you consider all your options. And, if you believe you should go to graduate school but feel like climbing Everest instead? There’s a reason for that. After all, the word should is a social construct. Who or what is setting the expectation that you should go to grad school? Your undergraduate degree? Your younger self full of dreams you no longer have? If you’d rather have a root canal than spend time thinking about what’s next on your education journey—maybe you’ve already finished it. In which case, let us be the first to clap and say, “Job well done.” 

For those who might be writing pro and con lists on the back of grocery receipts, we hope these areas of contemplation help you discern what would be best for you on your journey.

About Bethel University

Bethel University, located in the Twin Cities suburb of Arden Hills, Minnesota, is a leader in Christian higher education with approximately 4,500 students from 47 states and over 22 countries enrolled in undergraduate, graduate, seminary, and adult education programs. Boldly informed and motivated by the Christian faith, Bethel prepares graduates to serve in strategic capacities to renew minds, live out biblical truth, transform culture, and advance the gospel. Bethel is renowned for a highly credentialed faculty dedicated to teaching, integration of faith and learning, and the translation of Christian belief into service.

Katie Johnson works for Bethel University’s (MN) Office of Marketing and Communications as a content specialist. You can usually find her brainstorming storytelling strategies with her colleagues and playing with puns for social media posts. She loves adventuring with her dog, Frodo, and keeping up with the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

How to Decide if You Should Go to Grad School