Professional schools are typically divisions of large universities. They offer specialized education in a variety of professional fields, such as education, business, medicine, law, social work, agriculture, journalism, architecture, fine arts, nursing, engineering, and music. Some professional schools offer four- or five-year programs leading to a bachelor's degree, as well as graduate programs leading to master's and doctoral degrees. Other professional schools-such as schools of medicine, law, and library science-usually offer only graduate study. For example, Harvard University offers undergraduate courses related to the study of law, but the Harvard Law School offers courses for study in professional degree programs. Many large universities include graduate schools that offer master's or doctoral degree programs for advanced study in such liberal arts and science fields as history, chemistry, physics, and literature.
What to Study: Choices, Choices, Choices
There are a number of clear choices that you will have to deal with when it comes to making your decisions about graduate school. These are the issues everyone faces, from choosing where exactly you would like to go to school, to how you will pay for it, to whether or not you'll enroll as a full-time student.
But then there are other choices you will have to make that may not be so obvious as that first grouping, but that nonetheless will shape your graduate experience while you're in school, and play a major role in how you pursue a career once you graduate. And while these issues get less attention than some others, they are critical indeed, and still require serious thought.
Like, for example, what to study.
It may seem obvious, but the truth is that the exact degree you pursue will have the single most transformative effect on your professional life after you graduate. And yet, no one talks all that much about the confusion and unexpected issues that tend to manifest themselves when it comes to dealing with this most pressing decision.
Here, then, is a brief rundown of what your options may be, how to look at them clearly and in the context of good decision-making and how they might affect your career goals upon graduation.
Unlike college, where the academic programs tends to be set up in such a way that you can experience as many different kinds of classes as possible while still majoring in one specific area, graduate school is much more about honing and developing your skills in the one area that interests you most academically, intellectually, and, one assumes, professionally. In college, after all, most programs begin generally and only after several semesters begin to narrow the focus into more specific areas. There are core requirements that all students must pass, and regardless of what your major is, some experience in the arts, sciences, social studies, mathematics and the like will have been gained well before graduation. In this way, college students gain not only depth in the area that interests them most, but also breadth in terms of the areas studied outside the scope of their major.
Graduate school, however, is much more like a trade-school program in that its goal is to produce students who possess not only a deep-level understanding of their specific area, but, indeed, an expertise.
So what does this mean in practical terms? Simply this: You should make sure that whatever specific area of study in which you choose to pursue a degree is perfectly suited to both your strengths and your goals. Because the effect of this most basic decision will continue to be felt for years to come, long after you graduate.
The key to making a good decision is to ensure that you consider all your options with clear vision, with eyes wide open and with all those other sight-related clichés in mind. Essentially, don't go into a field of study without having considered all your options first, and without having looked carefully at how that decision will affect your professional life after graduation.
For example, there are some fields that have undeniable glamour, and the risk with them is that students may be lured to them for reasons that have little to do with reality. There are, for example, people who find the field of theoretical physics appealing. And, indeed, there is truly a romance to the work of these deeply esoteric thinkers: Exploring theories that deal with the deepest secrets of our universe, solving problems whose answers have eluded human understanding for as long as we've considered the issues themselves, working in highly charged intellectual environments with some of the finest minds in the world. Romantic, no?
But to go into theoretical physics simply based on those overly romanticized and, quite frankly, rather simplistic-ideas would be foolish. For while it certainly is a fascinating field, the reality is that true understanding will likely elude you for your entire career (some of today's finest minds are set to the issue of string theory, and yet, despite all their efforts, despite the work of thousands of individuals spread across the globe, no final, definitive, incontrovertible proof of their work has yet manifested itself...and there is the very good chance that it never will). Then there is the issue of all that solitary work, those hours spent trying to solve the difficult problems of mathematics that arise. And the classes you will have to teach in order to maintain your tenured position at the university that employs you, if, in fact, that's the route you choose.
The point is this: Make sure you understand all the ramifications of choosing a specific area of study before settling on it. It may be just the right one for you, of course...just make sure you look at all 360-degrees of it before making the final decision.
The whole point of pursuing a graduate education is to reach your goals. And while they may run the gamut from the professional to the intellectual to the academic to the personal, you have to be comfortable with your decisions, and cognizant of the ramifications of them.
And while there are innumerable ways in which your graduate school decisions can affect your professional life, there are some that are more important than others.
- Make sure you'll be happy in the work environment typical of the field in which you'd like to work
- Understand what the financial compensation will be, and how much work and time will be required of you in order to succeed
- Be aware of the geographical centers-of-gravity of your field, and ask yourself if you're willing to move in order to make the most of your professional life
There are no broad-spectrum right or wrong answers to these issues. In fact, the best solutions to any of these problems are profoundly personal. And as long as you understand that, and as along as you're able to make decisions wisely, you'll be just fine.
In fact, you'll be more than fine. You'll be successful.