You've taken the bold stance that sixteen years of school somehow isn't enough for you. Don't get us wrong, we're impressed. We're also a little frightened of you, but that's okay. That's unimportant. What's important is that you're applying to graduate school. You want to put some letters after your name so that people will know for certain that you're one smart (and dedicated) cookie.
Don't start rushing off just yet. We know you want to be called "Doctor" as soon as possible. Who doesn't? For certain fields (and your faculty advisor can tell you if yours is one), the prevailing wisdom is to go straight through. However, it might behoove you to wait. Some programs benefit from taking a bit of time off (source).
Well, not precisely "time off." We're not suggesting you spend a year sipping mai tais in the sun. No, we're suggesting getting some experience in your chosen field. It makes you more attractive to graduate programs and more attractive for jobs down the road. Perhaps most importantly, it puts a little bit of money in your pocket. College students are famous for being broke, and anything that fills the wallet can't be all bad.
"You Probably Don't Remember Me, But..."
Still, no matter if you wait or rush off into jeopardy, one thing you should not wait on are letters of recommendation from professors. As you may have guessed, these are super important to grad schools. Academia is a world unto itself. Professors know one another, and know of one another. A good recommendation can open a lot of doors. A bad letter, or none at all, will get those doors shut just as quickly.
Choose your professors wisely. Make sure they actually know you. If your letter of recommendation focuses on what a great sense of style you have instead of how much you contributed to class discussions, then maybe you should reconsider grad school.
Professors are only human. Yes, it's true. They might be crazy smart, but like the rest of us, they forget stuff. We recommend staying in touch with your professors if you take a year off, or get them to write your letter as early as possible while they still know how awesome you are. And that you exist. It goes without saying that they won't recommend a student that doesn't exist. Trust us. We've asked.
Master? Doctor? Master Doctor?
Much like a beard, which is why a PhD is known as a beard for your education. (Source)
You're going, but you're not sure if you're going for a Master's or a PhD. A Master's takes around two years and is geared towards a career, while a PhD can take anywhere from five to a whopping nine years. The choice is obvious, right? Master's.
Not so fast. It's time to go big or go home (source). When hiring someone with a graduate degree, most places are going to look at the PhD candidates before they consider anyone with a lowly Master's. Also, just because you have the degree doesn't mean you'll be called Master, either. We know, it's a bummer. The job market is competitive.
But the main problem is that a PhD is expensive and time-consuming. You know what, though? Several places will actually fund your PhDs for you. (source). You're not going to earn what you would earn in the workforce, but the time spent learning won't hurt your wallet quite so much. You're going to be poor, not broke, and for a grad student, that's a nice distinction.
The GRE: Go Relearn Everything
You should also take the GRE seriously, because he is a supervillain. Wait, we're thinking of GRU from Despicable Me. The GRE doesn't have minions? That's disappointing. We love those little yellow guys. Anyway, the GRE is the Graduate Record Examination, and it's basically the SATs to get into grad school.
The way to do that is by studying. Sorry, did you think you were done with that phase of your education? You're totally not. Luckily, you live in the age of the Internet, and you can find all kinds of study guides out there, like this one. Go forth and be brilliant, future doctor.
The important thing to remember about everything is to treat grad school seriously. No matter why you want to go, you probably have excellent reasons. Those reasons may or may not have to do with bears wearing jet packs, which we only bring up to point out that Shmoop already owns several patents on that technology.
If you're really into your field, study hard, get all your ducks in a row, chum it up with your professors, take a year off, then go big for your PhD. That's what Shmoop recommends.
When it's over, you can look forward to a long career of telling sick people you're "not that kind of doctor." It never gets old.
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