Do you know you want to go to grad school, but aren’t sure how to narrow down the search?
Perhaps you’re not sure how to decide between studying public health for refugees, conflict resolution, and management for nonprofits. You could be interested in all of these things, but not sure how to either tie them together or pick from the lot.
Here are some tips to help you clear your head and make some tough decisions!
What are the career paths open to you after each degree option? It sounds obvious, right? WRONG. You might think you’re interested in public health for refugee populations and maybe you’ve even spent time abroad in refugee camps, but speak to some people who went through a program in this area and find out what they’re doing now. Are all of them working in refugee camps in Somalia and Turkey? What are their day to day jobs like? What options are open to them as they move up into management? The more you have a sense of the longer term trajectory and what you’ll do on the way, the better position you’ll be in to make a smart decision. You might find out you’re looking at 5-10 years of working in the field before taking a headquarters post. That might be exactly what you’re looking for. And it might not. Get clear on that before launching into one, two, or three years of graduate school, a whole lot of debt and a career in the field. How does your past experience fit in? Grad school can be a great way to make a career change (plenty of people go just for that reason.) It’s also important to think about how what you’ve done in the past will fit into the story of you as a job candidate. The reality is that you’ll have a much easier time “selling yourself” as a superior candidate to future employers if you can tell that story well. So if you’re deciding between a few different program tracks and can better fit your past into one of those narratives, that’s a big plus for that program. Think about how you’ll explain in a cover letter or in an informational interview why you are interested in this work and how your past experience fits with the grad program. What feels like it makes more sense? (Run this by a few friends too!) What sounds like it makes more sense to you (and your friends) is likely to make more sense to an employer as well. If you’re dead set on a program that doesn’t really fit at all with past work, volunteering in that particular field before grad school will not only help connect the dots in your story, but will also make you a stronger candidate to get into the grad program in the first place! What are you truly passionate about? It’s cheesy, but really. This is what you’re going to be spending your next 2+ years studying, and theoretically the following 30+ years of a career working on, so make sure it’s what really makes you excited. What articles interest you? Do you read books for fun about international legal questions? About new strategies for alleviating poverty? About best practices for managing international NGOs? Check and double check yourself on this. Peruse course listings associated with programs and review the jobs graduates hold. Make sure envisioning yourself on any given path is really the one you want to follow and work hard to achieve. Talk to people who completed each degree you are considering. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. They will be your peers. Ask them what they’re jobs are like, day to day and in the long term. What do they love about it? Hate? How did the degree help them in their career? How easy was it to find a job? What do they recommend. It’s a lot of research but pays off when you find the perfect fit!