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What Graduate Program to Apply for?

It's the time of year when prospective applicants are preparing for the next admissions season. If you too are planning for next year, you may be wondering:

  • Should you go to graduate school?
  • To which kind of program should you apply?

To answer those questions "Begin with the end in mind” as Dr. Stephen Covey's advises. Unless you seek a graduate degree strictly for personal growth and the intellectual benefits -- pretty rare -- you should pursue the degree in order to advance professionally or achieve a professional goal. That advice means you need to have a professional goal.

For example, you should pursue an MBA if you need the credential or education to advance in your career or move into a business management role. The IT person who wonders whether to pursue an MS in computer science or an MBA needs to decide whether he wants to progress in technical roles or if he wants a broader degree that will prepare him for management positions. Does he want to deepen his skill set or complement his previous education? If the former, the MS is more appropriate; if the latter, the MBA will better prepare him for his desired career.

You should pursue a JD if you want to practice law or go into another area of work that requires legal training. You should not pursue a JD if you haven’t a clue what practicing law requires or if you think your penchant for arguing with your parents shows you have the potential to be the next Johnny Cochran.

Relying on shallow stereotypes about a profession as opposed to seeking basic experience in the field can lead to a poor decision. Here are several bad reasons for applying to graduate school:

  1. My parents want me to go and will pay for it.
  2. I hate my job.
  3. What else is there to do after you finished college?
  4. I like school.
  5. Grad school is the next thing to do.
  6. The economy is bad.
  7. It's there.

Graduate school is always a means to an end and never an end in itself. Know your goal and choose the most appropriate program to make the most of the sweat, time, and money you invest in your graduate education.

Linda Abraham,’s founder and president, has advised thousands of successful applicants to top MBA, law, medical, and graduate programs. In addition, Linda has authored or co-authored twelve admissions ebooks and lectured on admissions. Her most recent piece is a free special report, Applying to Business School in Times of Crisis.

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