Common Obstacles on the Path to Graduate School, and How to Overcome Them

By Cortney Philip Bookmark and Share


Returning to school for a graduate degree can feel impossible, especially if you’ve been out of college for awhile. But whether your concerns are financial, time-based, or psychological, don’t let these common obstacles keep you from pursuing graduate school.

Obstacle #1: “I don’t have time to go to school.”

When you have a full-time job, family, or both, finding time for even the simplest things can be a struggle. If you’re already having difficulties keeping up with the laundry or wishing you could just sit down with a good book once in awhile, it’s easy to see going to graduate school as nothing more than an unattainable dream.

Luckily, many graduate schools recognize that students are not only students, but also spouses and parents and workers with real-life responsibilities that can’t be ignored. Many graduate degree programs cater to working adults and can be completed in the evenings, part-time, or even online. Thanks to adult degree programs online it is possible to go to school (or log in to a virtual classroom) at your own pace and in your own time without sacrificing the rest of your life.

Obstacle #2: “I can’t afford to go to graduate school.”

In these economic times, very few people can really afford the price tag of a graduate degree. Yet people go to graduate school all the time. You might think a graduate degree is a financial impossibility, but there are ways to pay for it that you might not have considered.

Need-based financial aid in the form of loans and grants is available to students who qualify. In addition, many graduate programs offer scholarships, fellowships, or grants that pay your tuition in exchange for teaching classes or doing research for the school. If you’re looking to attend graduate school part-time or online, find out if your employer will pay for some or all of your tuition. Many companies that offer tuition reimbursement don’t always advertise that benefit loudly.

Obstacle #3: “I don’t want to move to attend graduate school.”

Perhaps you live too far to commute to a graduate school that offers the program you’re looking for, and uprooting to take on the uncertainty of college life is not something you can or want to do. This is where online education can make a graduate degree possible. You can complete graduate school through an accredited online college without ever having to get in your car.

If you don’t want to give up the idea of traditional classroom learning altogether, it is possible to combine online education with on-campus classes in a low-residency program. Usually, a low-residency graduate degree will require a few intense weeks of classes or workshops at the college, and the rest of the year is spent taking classes and communicating with professors online.

Obstacle #4: “I’m too old to go back to school.”

You’re only as old as you feel, so here are some statistics to make you feel young, or at least in good company. According to Dr. Tara Kuther, the average age of graduate students (across all fields of study) is over thirty. While it is common in some fields like medicine for students to go straight from undergraduate to graduate study, other fields like education draw from an older, more experienced crowd.

Because many graduate school students choose to return to school to change careers or further the ones they already have, many already have a substantial amount of work experience behind them. Older graduate students may even have an academic advantage over younger peers. The more work experience you have, the more you already know about how to stay organized, learn new skills, and achieve specific performance goals.

Obstacle #5: “My bachelor’s degree is in a different field than what I want to go to graduate school for.”

There are several things you can do to make yourself a qualified and desirable graduate school applicant, even if your bachelor’s degree is in an unrelated field. If you have relevant work experience, that will make both your resume and your statement of purpose stronger. Your letters of recommendation from former professors might not be able to speak to your abilities in your chosen field, but they can speak to your work ethic and what you bring to a classroom. A letter from an employer can round out your recommendations by demonstrating your passion for the subject and the work you have done outside a classroom setting.

If your desired graduate program has strict undergraduate major requirements, you might need to start there. You won’t have to spend another four years getting a brand-new bachelor’s degree, though. Usually taking a handful of classes is enough to tack on a second major to the degree you already have. Before applying to graduate school, contact an admissions advisor to find out what you need to do to get accepted.