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Graduate school: 5 things you need to know before you go

iStockphoto | ThinkStock + Scrubs

iStockphoto | ThinkStock + Scrubs

Furthering your career and advancing your education is no small task. No matter your age or stage of life, it’s a big decision.

Graduate school is a completely different journey than pursuing your undergraduate degree. Though attaining your bachelor’s degree is no small task, a master’s level education has its own unique set of challenges and decisions that present themselves far before you ever send in that first application.

If you are considering taking that next step, here are five things you need to know before you go:

1. Decide why you want to go

“Advancing your education and/or career” sounds great on a resume, but it really doesn’t answer the million dollar question of WHY. Are you doing it with the goal of getting a new job that requires the advanced degree? Or are you just unhappy in your current job? Are you thinking about short-term and long-term goals? Whatever your answer is, be honest. If your answer is, “I want to make more money,” you may want to re-evaluate your graduate school decision.

2. Decide how you want to go

Are you a commuter? Or are you an online learner? Do you learn better within the traditional classroom? How disciplined are you with studying? Is the program a hybrid of online and traditional learning? How far will you have to travel? What about clinical experiences? Who will set those up? Master’s leveled coursework is much more challenging.

3. Decide how you will afford it

This is sometimes the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It will be the fulcrum that can mean the difference between a two-year journey or a five-year journey. It will absolutely influence your decision of taking full-time or part-time credit hours. Will you take out loans? Will you be working full-time? What will your budget be? Master’s leveled coursework requires much more of your time.

4. Decide how you want to get in

I didn’t understand this one until I started researching different schools. Some graduate programs require standardized entrance exams (GRE, ACT and others), while some do not. Some schools that do not require an entrance exam score will alternatively require you to write a thesis paper during the program in order to graduate, while others require no thesis.

You need to ask yourself, What type of work am I prepared to do? Will you study for an entrance exam? Or do the work required for completing a thesis?

5. Decide where you want to go

Finally! Where do you want to go? Does the school matter? Does the program matter? I can tell you from personal and professional experience that high-profile, national universities and well-established programs will garner a certain amount of attention that you will not get with the lesser-known, local colleges. There is a lot to be said about a name. And I’m here to tell you that alumni seek out and give preferential treatment to fellow alumni.

Advancing your career is an amazing opportunity and something I highly recommend. Just be sure to do your homework. Make an educated and sound decision based on some deep soul searching, both personally and professionally.


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Sean Dent

Sean Dent is a second-degree nurse who has worked in telemetry, orthopedics, surgical services, oncology and at times as a travel nurse. He is a CCRN certified critical care nurse where he's worked in cardiac, surgical as well as trauma intensive care nursing. After five years practicing as an RN, Sean pursued and attained his Masters of Science in Nursing. Sean currently practices as a Board Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP-BC) in a Shock Trauma urban teaching hospital. He has been in healthcare for almost 20 years. He originally received a bachelor's degree in Exercise and Sport Science where he worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC).

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