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. 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
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
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
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.