Why Graduate School?

While graduate school can be rewarding, it can also be expensive and time-consuming. It’s important to weigh whether it’s the right next step for you. To get started, reflect and research the answers to these questions:

  • How long will it take?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Am I ready to do the work?
  • Is this going to make a difference for my career and long-term income?
  • If I need to take out student loans, is it still worth it?
  • Should I gain work experience first?

Reflect on Your Reasons for Attending

What are your reasons for attending graduate school? Where do they fall on this scale?

Good reasons

  • Based on my research, I know that I need a particular graduate degree to secure the job I want.
  • Based on my research, I know that a graduate degree will give me better job choices.
  • I want to be a researcher or a college professor.

Not-So-Good Reasons

  • I don’t know what else to do.
  • I can put off paying my college loans.
  • My parents or teachers expect me to go.
  • It’s a way to avoid finding a real job.

Conduct Preliminary Research

I work with lots of students who think, “I like research, I like writing. Maybe I should go to law school.” With these students, I always want to know what jobs they’re interested in that lead them to consider a JD. Do they want to be a lawyer? Work in policy? Work in government? By starting with the career goal, they can assess whether they actually need a law degree to do that work. — GS Dean Tiffany Decker

How can you find out whether a particular degree is necessary for securing and doing the job you want? Here are a few research tools we recommend:

  • Online research, using tools like O*NET, the Occupational Outlook Handbook, and the Firsthand Guides to different industries.
  • Reading job descriptions, which can help you understand required qualifications for the roles you’re targetting.
  • Browsing LinkedIn profiles, to see the educational trajectories of people doing the work you want to do.
  • Informational interviews, or chatting with people doing the work you’re interested in.


Interested in moving forward? Check out our other graduate school resources for tips about selecting a school, applying, obtaining references, and financing your graduate education.

Columbia-Specific Graduate School Resources

CCE Resources

  • Meet one-on-one with a career counselor to discuss whether graduate school is the right choice for you. We can also give you generalist feedback on statements and other application materials!
  • Listen to our conversation with GS Dean Tiffany Decker about considerations around attending graduate school and putting together a compelling application package.

For CC and SEAS Students

  • Office of Preprofessional Advising: Resources and advising throughout the graduate school application process for law, health professions, and business. Sign up for their Prelaw and Prehealth listservs to learn about events and opportunities.
  • Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Office: Fellowships database and personal training for students applying for national and international fellowships.
  • SEAS Bulletin: List of fellowships and scholarships available to SEAS graduate students.

For GS Students

  • Graduate School Planning: Resources and advising throughout the application process, including a semester-long seminar on the application process.
  • Pre-Professional Planning: Resources and advising throughout the graduate school application process for law, health professions, and business.
  • Fellowships: List of fellowships, resources, and advising on the application process.

For Undergraduate Women

  • Forté Foundation’s Rising Stars program: Resources for applying to business school, building business skills, and connecting with professionals in the business world, as well as priority access to Forté student conferences.

General Graduate School Resources

Graduate School Databases

  • Petersons Guide to Graduate Study: Tools for finding and financing graduate programs
  • College Source: A database of college catalogs, institution profiles, and course descriptions
  • Graduate Guide: A directory of graduate schools in the US and Canada
  • US News & World Report: Search engine for top-ranking programs by discipline
  • PhDs.org: A search and ranking tool for master’s and doctorate programs; career resource extras include Getting into Grad School, Succeeding in Grad School, and Postdoctoral Life pages

Other Resources

  • Teach for America: Information on graduate schools offering benefits to Teach for America alumni including two-year deferrals, fellowships, course credits, and waived application fees
  • MentorNet: Ementoring networking between experienced professionals and students in STEM fields