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Going Back to School for a Graduate Degree

Whether you are in a mid-career rut and looking to augment your current skill set, strategizing how to earn that promotion or pay raise, exploring what it would take to make a career change or are fresh out of your undergraduate program — pursuing a graduate degree holds unlimited potential for anyone willing and eager to put in the time and effort.

Unlike an undergraduate degree, where the majority of students are entering college right out of high school, graduate programs don’t generally have a “typical” student. Graduate programs are not one-size-fits-all and frequently bring together groups and populations that have less in common than they do alike. This diverse setting makes for a dynamic learning environment where everyone’s individual experiences contribute to discussion, exploration and expansion of thought. 

A 2018 study conducted by EducationDynamics found that the number of graduate students has been steadily increasing since 2015 and “projections indicate continuous growth each year over the next decade, with an increase of as many as 568,000 additional graduate students by 2025.” The same study also found that the three most popular reasons for returning to graduate school were:


To increase salary (25%)


To earn a promotion or new position in current field (21%)


To transition to a new career field (19%)

Other popular reasons for returning to graduate school include:

  • Your intended field requires a graduate degree
  • A desire to continue your education
  • Advancing research, writing and communication skills
  • Returning to the job market after a period of time away
  • Needing additional education to get a job after being unemployed
  • Other personal reasons

Before diving head-first into a graduate program, it is important to recognize that this endeavor, although undoubtedly enriching, will require effort, dedication and resilience to see it through. Frequently grad students return to school in the middle of careers or raising families. Whether you are part-time or full-time, it is important to enter into your program with an understanding of the workload in order to help you accomplish your goal. Even if you do not have significant obligations outside of pursuing a graduate degree, it is still a good idea to contemplate and plan for the work ahead so you can thrive in your program and enjoy the process along the way.


Quiz: Should you return to school?

Like any major life decision, making the choice to return to school can be challenging. Perhaps you have gone back and forth, weighing the pros and cons, seeking the advice of your peers and family, and asking yourself questions like — Will returning to school actually benefit me? Am I ready to go back to school for another degree? While we can’t tell you definitely whether or not you should apply to grad school, take this quick quiz to see if your professional and academic interests, as well as your current obligations, line up well with pursuing a graduate degree.

Start Quiz!

Question 1:

Are you pursuing a career or a specific position that requires advanced education?

Question 2:

Are you looking to earn a higher salary or be eligible for promotions?

Question 3:

Do you want to acquire new skills or advance your current skill set (one that requires more education than your bachelor’s degree)?

Question 4:

Are you looking to change careers and need further education to do so?

Question 5:

Have you considered the cost of returning to graduate school, both financial and otherwise, and determined that you will earn a return on your investment?

Question 6:

Do you have a rough idea of how you will fund your graduate degree?

Question 7:

Are you able to return to school given your state in life and personal circumstances (i.e. are you married, do you have a family or do you currently have any long-term commitments or obligations)?

Question 8:

Are you mentally prepared to embrace the added workload of graduate school?

0 Yes

0-4 Answered Yes — Pursuing a graduate degree might be the right decision for you, but perhaps consider learning more about what earning a graduate degree actually entails, how to fund this degree and further explore what field you want to pursue and why, before committing to a graduate program.

4-8 Answered Yes — It sounds like you have thoroughly explored why you want to return to grad school and are well equipped to begin the process. We recommend reaching out to one of our highly helpful graduate admissions counselors with any further questions or concerns you might have! 


Understanding the ROI of a Graduate Degree

Graduate school is definitely an investment, an investment in yourself and your future career. Like any investment, you want to make sure that you will experience a worthwhile return upon graduation. A return is any added value that you experience as a result of completing your degree including a higher salary, better job prospects, more career mobility and enhanced skill sets. Here are three of the most frequent returns graduate students see after completing their degree and the numbers to back them up.


Potential To Earn More

In 2018, master’s degree holders earned a median annual salary of $74,568 and those with a professional degree earned $97,968, while those with a bachelor’s degree only earned $62,296.


More Job Security and Lower Unemployment

As of 2018, professionals with an advanced degree only experienced 2% unemployment, in addition to experiencing greater job security and mobility.


Better Career Opportunities

By earning your master’s degree, the likelihood that you will hold a career in management, professional and related occupations increases from 64% to 85%.




After you have decided that now is a good time to return to school for your graduate degree, the process of looking for and narrowing down your options can seem overwhelming. But, don’t worry — we are here to help with a simple five-step process that will help get you started. Read on as we walk you through choosing a graduate program that will meet your needs and consider all your interests. 

When you first begin your search for a graduate program, make a list of the elements that are essential or most important to you. This will vary for every individual, but can include: 

  • Your program of interest
  • Preferred geographical location
  • Part-time/full-time options
  • In-classroom, online and hybrid options
  • Night, weekend or regular class options
  • Time required to finish
  • Cost of attendance
  • Student/faculty ratio
  • Internships and research opportunities
  • Active career services center
  • Student support services
  • Strong alumni network

This list is not comprehensive but is a good place to start. With this list of data points, you can begin plugging the highest priority factors into an online graduate search tool such as gradschools.com, petersons.com or the princetonreview.com. These search tools are equipped to filter through tens of thousands of schools, to match you with the ones that best fit your criteria. The more data you are able to enter into the search tools, the more accurate the recommendations will be.

Once you have decided which graduate degree program you want to pursue, research what types of regional or national accreditations or certifications are associated with that particular graduate field of study. Accreditation is important because it recognizes that a program and its curriculum have been evaluated and meets the highest standards of learning and professional preparation in the field. Not every graduate program has an associated accreditation, but many do.  It is important to consider the program’s accreditation because employers in some industries (e.g, nursing, counseling, audiology, architecture) will often only hire candidates that have graduated from programs that have the appropriate accreditations.  

After you have narrowed down your vast pool of options to a smaller number of ideal choices, you should explore the programs’ curriculum, including what courses you will take throughout your degree and what specializations, concentrations or certifications are offered as part of the programs. Pay close attention to internships, co-ops and field-experiences that are offered, as these opportunities give you real-world professional experience that is valuable on a resume and can be leveraged in a job interview. If having the opportunity to study abroad is important to you, now is a great time to inquire about any available opportunities and accompanying requirements. 

Unlike an undergraduate program, earning a graduate degree will involve more extensive research and in-depth study, frequently culminating in a thesis or dissertation. Depending on your program of interest, a significant part of your academic study may be spent conducting research.   It is important that you consider the research interests of current faculty within the program and department. Most likely, you will be participating in their research projects and branching off of their main focus for your own independent study, so be sure that you find their work interesting and relatable. If you have questions about what their research entails, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask. Faculty generally love sharing their research passions! 

Once you have your top programs in mind, now is a great time to contact a representative of the school such as an admissions professional. Either by phone, email or in person, you will have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss your goals for graduate school. The admissions professional can give you information not readily available online and can also put you in touch with recent alumni. Speaking to alumni who have graduated from your potential program will allow you to get an honest feel for the department’s culture and help you set realistic expectations for your time there. Finally, if you plan on taking classes on campus, visiting will enable you to picture yourself there and get a feel for what your next few years could be like. It will also allow you to explore facilities like classrooms, labs, libraries, parking and food options. 

Pro-tip: If you plan on taking night classes, make sure you visit the campus at night. Schools tend to look a lot different at night than they do during the day. Factor campus safety into your decision.


After choosing a few select schools to apply to, now is the time to get organized. Begin by reviewing the application requirements for each school. Although many schools will require similar information and documentation, no two will be exactly the same so make sure you keep a running list of what has been and still needs to be submitted. If you have any questions about the application requirements, don’t hesitate to reach out to the admission’s office and ask. It is much easier for you, and them, if you have everything in order from the beginning!

Graduate School Exams

Many schools will require you to submit scores from graduate tests that pertain to your program of interest. First, learn if the program and school you are applying to require these scores. If they do, you should then find out what their minimum or recommended score is. Having a lower score won’t automatically disqualify you, but you might want to consider retaking the exam if your score is well below the given range. 

The most common graduate exams include the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). The GRE is a general test that is widely used to assess an applicant’s readiness for the rigor of a graduate program. The exam includes an analytical writing, verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning portion and tests basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis as well as college-level vocabulary, your ability to analyze and evaluate written material, think critically and solve problems. The GMAT is similar to the GRE in the areas it assesses, but it is more commonly used to evaluate business school applicants. The GMAT’s focus is specifically to determine your readiness to enter and succeed in an MBA program.

Additionally, some schools will accept an exam score that does not match the stated program requirements. For example, if you had originally wanted to become a lawyer and took the LSAT, but now want to earn an MBA, check with the school to see if they will honor your LSAT score before signing up for another exam.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in law or medicine, you will need to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). These both assess a candidate’s readiness to undertake a graduate program in his or her respective field. Similarly, the PRAXIS exam is used to evaluate those who wish to earn a graduate degree in teaching.

An exam is also required for international students looking to study in the United States – either the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). These exams are used to evaluate an international student’s proficiency in the English language and include listening, reading, writing and speaking portions.  

Questions about Admissions?

If you have specific questions for an admissions coordinator, complete the simple form, 
and a coordinator will be in touch with you soon!

Things You May Need to Apply to Grad School

Each school and program are different, but we have compiled a general list of the items you may be asked to provide as part of your application. We have also included a short description of each and a few tips for helping you produce the highest quality materials, which will help your application to stand out among the best. Most importantly, keep in mind the application deadline for each program and get started early so you are not rushed and forced to submit an unreviewed application. 

When submitting an application, schools will require an official record of your courses and grades from your undergraduate program. Each institution’s requirements differ so be sure to check the application requirements for your intended program. If an official transcript is required, you will need to request that this transcript be sent directly from your undergraduate institution to the appropriate graduate school contact. Be sure that you have the correct name, email and address or school code before you make the request. Some schools will allow you to submit a copy of your unofficial transcript at the time of application and will only require official copies once you are admitted. Generally, schools will not permit transcripts printed from student portals.

Pro-tip: If you have any questions about where to send your transcript, reach out and ask! It’s always better to check and be sure.   


Official Transcript

An official transcript is sent directly from the originating institution to the applicant’s new school via mail or secure electronic service providers (e.g., parchment, e-Scrip).


Unofficial Transcript

An unofficial transcript has passed through an applicant’s hands. If the applicant has opened the sealed envelope the transcript automatically becomes unofficial.

Like we mentioned before, test scores from the GRE, GMAT, and TOEFL or IELTS, help a school understand how prepared you are to engage in graduate-level study and give them a good idea of your strengths and areas for improvement. Not all schools require these test scores, but if they do many will list their preferred score range. If you don’t feel comfortable or confident in your score, you can always take the test again. There are endless study resources available online!  

When submitting your scores with your application, make sure you have the proper school code. These requests are made online through your provider’s testing account (ETS or GMAC). 

Pro-tip: Scores will appear in your testing account 10-15 days after you take the exam. It takes another week for them to be sent to your requested schools. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to meet the application deadline, accounting for the time it will take for your score to be available to schools to which you are applying. 

Pro-tip: Be sure to use the same name on your test and application, not a different variation or nickname. Having a different name on your test and application makes it difficult for the institution to match them.

A personal statement, or goal statement, is a written opportunity for you to showcase your readiness and eagerness to attend graduate school. In a personal statement, you should discuss why you are passionate about your field and why you are applying to the program. This is an opportunity for the school to get to know you, so rather than saying you are hardworking, include compelling examples of times in your life or career you have demonstrated hard work.

A statement of purpose is similar to a personal statement, but more intently focused on why you are applying to this program in particular. The statement of purpose is also an appropriate place to discuss your previous experience in the field, research experience and your particular interest in the program’s coursework and research opportunities. 

Pro-tip: Always strictly adhere to the word count guideline you are given. Also, be sure to ask a peer or professional colleague to proofread your work and offer feedback before submitting your statement. 

Pro-tip: Speak clearly and persuasively.  Admissions review committees are looking for convincing evidence that you have a thorough understanding of the field and their particular program, have clear academic and professional goals, and are motivated to succeed.  The evidence should jump off the page.  Don’t make the committee hunt for the evidence.

Letters of recommendation are professional or personal testaments to your past academic success and your ability to thrive in a graduate program. Generally, schools will ask for two to four letters of recommendation. Often, at least one or two will need to be from one of your undergraduate professors or from a supervisor at work.  

While having a close personal acquaintance write a letter of recommendation can be helpful, the majority of your recommendations should come from individuals who can speak directly to your readiness to undertake graduate study and your potential for success in graduate school.  Although relatives and friends may think the world of you, they are not appropriate recommendation writers for graduate school. 

When soliciting letters of recommendation, make sure you ask with plenty of time for them to craft a well-thought-out response (a month or more is respectful). Provide the prompt if you are given one and any information your recommendation writer may need to submit the letter once they have finished. It can be helpful if you provide a resume or brief bio of your academic achievements and previous work experience related to you intended program of study.

Pro-tip: After they have submitted your recommendation, follow up with a thank you note or email. It is courteous to thank your recommendation writers for their time and a great way to maintain professional relationships. Also, when you are accepted to the program, share the good news with them! 

Much of graduate school is learning to communicate and articulate your ideas clearly and concisely. A writing sample is an opportunity to showcase your written communication skills to a graduate program. You may be asked to submit a paper you wrote for an undergraduate class. Choose something that showcases your writing style, clarity of thought and analytical ability. If asked to respond to a writing prompt, read the instructions carefully and follow the guidelines precisely. Aside from making sure your writing sample is free from errors, reads well and communicates your ideas clearly, you should focus most of your attention on answering the question posed to you (and only that question). Every sentence and word you include should serve a purpose, so avoid the temptation to ramble or add tangents. 

Pro-tip: Have a peer or professional colleague review your work for spelling and grammar errors. Also, ask them if it reads clearly and logically and answers the prompt. 

Once you have submitted your application, some schools may request an in-person interview. This is an opportunity for you to sit down with an admissions professional and discuss your desire to enter their graduate program. If you are called for an interview, don’t be nervous — this is a great thing! 

If there is one tip we can recommend more than anything else, it is to prepare. Take ample time to prepare with a peer or family member. Have them ask you potential interview questions and practice your responses. You don’t need to have answers memorized (that would sound rehearsed and disingenuine), but having an idea of what you want to convey will help you remain calm, collected and persuasive in your interview. 

Pro-tip: Always dress well for your interview (business attire), shake your interviewer’s hand, smile and look them in the eye. First impressions and body language go a long way in an interview.

Pro-tip: Ask informed questions.  Asking good questions lets your interviewers know you have thoroughly researched your intended graduate program, institution, and the profession.  The types of questions you ask are often an insight into your level of preparation for graduate school.”


One of the most common hesitations students have when they make the decision to return to school for a graduate degree is — how will I afford it? This is a valid and responsible question to consider, especially if you are pursuing a graduate degree immediately after undergrad or if you have a family to support. The good news is there are lots of financing options which make attending grad school an affordable option for many. 

If you are currently in the middle of your professional career and are returning to school to obtain a new skill set or advance an applicable one, first check with your supervisor or the human resources department at your company. It is not uncommon for companies to subsidize part or all of your graduate education if you can apply your degree to your career. 

Next, consider outside sources of aid. These can come in the form of scholarships, grants, fellowships and loans. To apply for any of these, you will likely need to begin by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is an online tool managed by the U.S. Department of Education, which is used by schools, government organizations and private institutions to determine a student’s eligibility for loans. Generally, graduate schools do not offer the same type of financial aid that is commonly available at the undergraduate level, but you still may be eligible for federal loans. Completing the FAFSA is the first step in the process.




Scholarships are funding opportunities that will not need to be repaid and are generally awarded for meeting a certain set of criteria, determined through an application process. There are scholarships available for everything including based on geographic location, field of interest, gender, ethnicity, race and prior work experience. If you are part of a club, group or professional organization, you should ask if they provide scholarships to graduate students. Additionally, many schools have their own set of scholarships you can apply for. The best way to find scholarships is to browse an online search tool such as  Unigo, Fastweb, Scholarship America and GoGrad. 

When you are applying for scholarships, apply early and to as many as possible. Scholarship sums are not usually large, but several of them can add up and make a big difference. 




Grants are also gifts of money that will not need to be repaid after graduation. Like scholarships, you can apply for grants if you meet the criteria. Unlike scholarships, grants are usually awarded based on financial need. While grants tend to be larger sums, there are fewer of them available and they are frequently more competitive, which means you should apply early to have the best chance of receiving funding. Grants can come from federal institutions, state governments, private companies or organizations and schools. You can also search for grants by your field of interest. 

Graduate Assistantships and Fellowships


Graduate Assistantships and Fellowships

Most assistantships and fellowships are awarded by the graduate institute, although some can come from government institutions and private companies.  If you are the recipient of a portable, or transferable, fellowship the award will travel with you to any institution.  When the award is offered by the graduate institution recipients are often required to work (i.e., teach, conduct research, assist in a lab, or perform administrative duties) in exchange for free or reduced tuition.  Generally, assistants/fellows are also given a small living stipend.  Students may be offered an assistantship/fellowship when they are admitted to the program, or they may apply and interview for the position just like they would for a job.  Assistantships and fellowships are usually competitive, so it is important to submit a quality graduate application as well as any other supplemental assistantship/fellowship application materials required by the institution.  

Pro tip:  Check out the institutions job board or contact the program to find out what assistantships/fellowships are available. 




A loan is a sum of money that is borrowed by a recipient to help cover the upfront cost of paying for graduate school but will need to be repaid upon completion of the program. Because this money is not a gift, it should be the final type of aid you apply for after exhausting all your other options. These loans can either come from the federal government or from a private company. Generally, loans can be obtained for reasonable interest rates and many do not need to begin to be repaid until after you have completed your degree. When applying for loans, be sure to calculate and stay within the limits for subsidized and unsubsidized funds.

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Our blog, Flash Forward, is a weekly blog for prospective graduate students that focuses on providing tomorrow's graduate students with the resources and insight needed to make an informed decision regarding graduate school.

Need-to-Know Advice for Thriving in Graduate School

Graduate school is an empowering experience that equips you with the knowledge and tools you need to succeed professionally and beyond, but that doesn’t mean it is easy or that there are not  challenges along the way. The bottom line is, anything of value usually requires hard work. During your time in grad school, it is important to manage your expectations (after all, you won’t be able to do everything all the time) and embrace imperfection. As long as you are prepared and well equipped walking into your graduate program, you will probably find the work rewarding and the end result is well worth it.

Every graduate student is different and will need unique assistance making his or her way through his or her degree. This is why choosing a school with a supportive community and faculty is important, so you can rely on your peers and professors when you encounter challenges. Also, don’t forget the support system that got you here — family, friends, professional colleagues, significant others and spouses will all continue to play an important role as you journey through grad school. 

Advice for Recent College Grads

If you have just finished your bachelor’s degree and are jumping right into your graduate degree, there are a few things that will help you continue to thrive in your program. First, maintain active relationships with your close peers and professors. This support system will be invaluable when you need some encouragement or feedback. Don’t be afraid to lean into the fact that you are coming right out of an academic program and straight into another — this can work in your favor! You are already in the mindset required to succeed in grad school, so embrace it. At the same time, make sure to give yourself small breaks for self-care so you can avoid burnout. Finally, respect and learn from those in your program who are older than you. Chances are they have a lot of professional and life experiences that you can benefit from. 

Advice for the Career Changer

As a career changer, you are probably entering graduate school with a few (if not several) years of professional experience under your belt. This real-world expertise will benefit you in the classroom, even if it is not directly related to the field you are pursuing. Soft skills like communication, time management, problem-solving, teachability and a strong work ethic will take you far in your graduate program. 

Although many of your skills will translate, take this time to step back from your old career and dive head first into your new field. Take advantage of the career resources your school has to offer and tap into the alumni network it has set up. As you build the educational foundation to begin a new career, also begin constructing a new professional network that can help you land a job right out of grad school.

Check out our guide for Career Changers!

For more advice on how to navigate graduate school and switch careers, explore our
comprehensive resource — The Career Changer’s Guide to Graduate School!


Advice for the Working Professional

Returning to school to earn your graduate degree, while maintaining a full- or part-time job is a challenge, but it is completely achievable. One of the many benefits of taking this route is the ability to earn money and a degree at the same time while continuing to gain years of valuable professional experience. Make sure to tap into your professional network for support, especially if you are returning to school to further your career in your field. Depending on your relationship, talk with your supervisor about your increased workload and if they would be amenable to adjusting your hours or teleworking part of the time.

With everything that is on your plate, it is especially important that you prioritize self-care. This includes sleep (we know, the first thing to go – but trust us), exercise, healthy eating and some hobby or creative outlet that offers you a chance to relax. Although these things may seem secondary to your work and education, they are essential for helping you to avoid burnout and to put forth excellent work.

Advice for Moms and Dads Going Back to School

As a parent who has decided to go back to school for his or her graduate degree, we know that these next few years will be challenging, but also very rewarding come graduation. Parents in grad school are some of the hardest working, most organized and highly dedicated students out there. Not only do they take on all the responsibilities of a regular student, but they also care for their children and families at the same time. 

To do this you will need a large and robust support network. Don’t be afraid to outsource help when you need it like asking for help watching the kids, having a cleaner come once a month, or having your groceries delivered in a pinch. Most likely, you will find yourself squeezing in study time everywhere you can — during sports practices, waiting in a carpool line or before everyone is up in the morning. These can be great opportunities for studying, reading or taking notes, but try to set aside some dedicated blocks of work (maybe at night or when the kids are at school) to really focus on big projects and assignments.

Check out our guide for Moms!

For more advice on how to navigate applying to graduate school as a parent, explore our
comprehensive resource — Everything Moms Need To Know About Going To Grad School!


Start Your Graduate School Journey

Now is a great time to return to school and begin your graduate degree. With increasing numbers of companies looking to hire educated professionals with advanced skill sets, a graduate degree will set you apart from your competitors and help you land your desired career. That’s why we’d like to invite you to reach out and request more information — and learn how Kent State University’s graduate degree programs are distinguishing graduate students as the best of the best.

If you are ready to begin your graduate school journey, you can start your graduate school application online today. We hope this resource has answered your questions and offered you guidance as you prepare for graduate school. Best of luck on your future academic ventures!