Recently I’ve been very anxious about what I’m going to do after university is over. I don’t think I’m alone in this regard. With the recession still fresh in people’s minds it’s hard to get excited about leaving university. So why not come back for a few more years? In this article, the first in a two part series, I’m going to talk about one of our options: to continue on to graduate school.

Graduate studies are regarded by many as “the new undergraduate degree.” With so many people today entering the workforce with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s or PhD can really make a resume stand out.

However, Trent Environmental Life Sciences graduate student, Adam Marquez tells Arthur “If your aim is to just do another two years of school so that you can get paid more when you finish you are entering into it for all the wrong reasons.”

“Grad studies are not the ticket to more money like some may believe; it’s an opportunity to immerse yourself into a specific project for two or three years.”

Graduate students all seem to agree that a keen interest for what you plan to study is the most important thing to have. Grad programs are more self-directed than undergraduate degrees and thus require more dedication to one’s studies.

Madalyn Howitt, a Trent grad now studying in the course-based Literatures of Modernity program at Ryerson, tells Arthur that grad school provides “more opportunities to explore what it is that I’m truly interested in studying. For example I can write about whatever I want in my Major Research Paper at the end of the year and I’ll be submitting a paper to a Pop Culture conference soon.”

It should go without saying that a self-directed program requiring more dedication necessarily requires more work as well. Marquez estimates “most graduate students are expected to work 40 to 60 hours a week on their project and juggle other responsibilities.”

However, Howitt assures that this workload should not turn off prospective students: “If you did well in your undergrad you’ll do well in grad school. Your schedule may feel more packed, but the quality of work expected from you is at a level that you’re already accustomed to producing.”

Before a prospective grad student starts worrying about work, they have to consider where to apply. The application process is costly and deadlines are quickly approaching. Due to changes in the Ontario Graduate Scholarship application you now have to fill out an OGS application for each university you plan on applying to.

Every university has a different deadline for this, so it’s important to do your research long before applying. Most seem to be due in January or February, but some schools are much earlier. Carleton’s deadline, for example, has already passed.

The same is true for the applications to the programs themselves. Not only does every university have different deadlines, often different programs within a university have different deadlines as well.

Thankfully, this is not true for Trent, which only has one deadline to pay attention to, but the University of Western’s website informs users that each program “has specific deadlines for both domestic and international students” adding yet another layer of confusion.

Assuming you’re on top of all this and every relevant deadline has been taken into account, your choice then comes down to the schools themselves. Check out the graduate courses that have been offered historically at the universities you’re interested in to get a sense of which school’s programs are better suited to your interests. Since grad school is more self-directed you really want to make sure what you’re studying is something you actually want to spend time studying.

So where does Trent rank as a graduate school? A source who has asked to remain anonymous informs Arthur that their “suspicion is that Trent does not rank high on grad school lists of humanities programs.” This is, of course, only one opinion.

Marquez tells Arthur that “what Trent lacks in comparison to other universities in Ontario is funding” but despite this “Trent’s professors […] are very willing to help students maximize their graduate experience by encouraging imaginative responses to challenges.”

This is fairly representative of the diversity of criticisms you’ll find for any institution (Howitt tells Arthur that Ryerson is a “fun, comfortable, thought-provoking environment” for instance). It’s important to put your critical thinking skills to task and figure out which criticisms are most likely to apply to you.

For example, our anonymous source is in the humanities stream, while Marquez is in the sciences. These two disciplines provide very different atmospheres, especially at the graduate level, and therefore criticisms of one discipline might not apply to the other. As I mentioned, our anonymous source’s negative opinion is only one opinion and it’s possible that others have had better experiences.

Perhaps one of the best ways to get a sense for which schools might be the best for you would be to talk to your favourite professors and ask their opinions. They’ll know much more specific details about your program of study and which schools work best than one single article could ever hope to cover. It’s also a convenient time to ask them for letters of reference, which you will need when you apply.

Not convinced that grad school is for you? Well, you’re likely going to want to dive directly into the work force.

Check back next week for part two, where I look into that option in more detail.

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Pat was co-editor of Volume 49, along with Matt Rappolt. He’s primarily interested in arts coverage, often editorializing on arts issues. He graduated from Trent with a Bachelor’s degree in English Lit. Pat hosts or co-hosts several programs at Trent Radio, such as Media Are Plural. You can follow him on Twitter, or watch him eat through his kitchen window. In his spare time Pat reads a lot (q.v. English major), plays video games, and writes fiction. He has a blog or something but I couldn’t find out too much about that.