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Do You Really Need To Go To Grad School?

Still deciding what to do when you grow up? Don’t worry- you’re not alone when it comes to figuring out your future. With a tough job market, many of you might be debating whether it’s a good idea to continue further education, especially in a economic time like this. Her Campus is here to guide you through the grad-school process and whether graduate school might be right for you!

For all graduate schools, whether it’s an online masters degree or law school, it’ll be like applying to college again. You’ll need to send your transcript, recommendations, and your resume. Your essays will be much more specialized, according to the field you are choosing to study. Below is a list of a few fields of study, what test they require and whether it is a good idea to pursue more years of study in the given field.

Just so we have the lingo down:

  • LSAT: Law School Admissions Test
  • MCAT : Medical College Admission Test
  • GRE: Graduate Record Test
  • GMAT: Graduate Management Admission Test
  • PCAT: Pharmacy College Admission Test
  • DAT: Dental Admissions Test.

Law School: test to take: LSAT – If you want to be a lawyer, you’ll have to go to law school. Typically it takes about three years to complete. When you take the LSAT and apply to law school is all up to you. Some people take some time off after their bachelors to gain some work experience while others take the LSAT the summer before or after their senior year.  Joanne Karchmer, the Director of Career Services at UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law suggests that undergraduate students spend some time working in a legal setting before choosing to attend law school. “Attending law school is an enormous personal and financial commitment and one that should not be entered into without adequate self-assessment,” she says. The benefits of working in a legal setting are that it not only allows students to see how lawyers work in a professional setting but also gives students and recent graduates the opportunity to learn how to handle themselves effectively in the workplace as their first post-graduate job says Karchmer.

The Bottom Line: If you decide you want to be a lawyer, you have to go to law school.

(Want to read even more about the road to law school?  Check out this article. )

Medical School: test to take: MCAT – To be a doctor, medical school is mandatory – no way around it. Some schools offer intensive programs that you can apply for while you’re an undergraduate. However, many people take the MCAT the summer before their senior year of college if they want to apply during the fall of their senior year. Many wait after they have graduated and give themselves some time off before attending medical school. The path to being a doctor is long and grueling. Medical school in itself is four years. Your residency is like an internship at a hospital, and the length is determined by your specialty. It can range from one to six years. After that you may do an advanced fellowship for a very specialized position which can also range from one to three years.

The Bottom Line: Medical school is an absolute must for wannabe doctors.

Dental School: Test to take: DAT – Dental School is similar to medical school. In order to be a dentist, or an orthodontist, you must attend dental school. It is a minimum of four years. After you finish that you may have the option of specializing in orthodontics. Most programs require an additional two or three year residency. Jaimin Surati, who just graduated from Boston University, will be attending University of Louisville Dental School in Kentucky in the fall. “Since I entered college I knew I wanted to go to dental school, so I studied biology, took my DATs my junior year and applied in the fall,” Surati said. 

The Bottom Line: Want to be a dentist, orthodontist or an oral surgeon? Go to dental school.

Physicians Assistant School: test to take: GRE – A physician’s assistant (PA) is a healthcare professional licensed to practice medicine with the supervision of a physician. They perform many of the same duties doctors do, such as basic primary care and high-technology specialty procedures. Often, PA’s will act as first or second assistants in surgery and give pre- and postoperative care to patients. So as an alternative to med school, to become a PA, you’ll attend school for two years– with your second year in rotations of different specialties. Alison Krueger, a senior from University of Pittsburgh, has chosen to apply to Physicians Assistant programs instead of medical school. “I decided a Physician’s Assistant program would be better because a ton of jobs will soon be opening up because of the new health care bill. Also, this way I can work in the medical field without spending so much time in school,” Krueger said.

The Bottom Line: Even if you don’t want to be a full doctor, you’re still going to need some post-grad schooling. If you were pre-med and decided med-school isn’t right for you, then PA school, Physical Therapy or even Pharmacy school may be a better route for you to have a career in the medical field.

Journalism School: test to take: GRE – (Some programs do not require the GRE) Whether or not you should get a masters in journalism is debatable. Some say go for it, others think it is unnecessary—journalism school is only one year and very expensive.  If you have some experience from writing at your undergraduate paper, you’ve taken some journalism courses or you’ve interned in the field then you can probably skip the masters program and head to the job market. However if you’re lacking the experience or are seeking a specialized program like economics journalism or scientific journalism, then adding a graduate degree may help your resume receive a second glance. 

The Bottom Line: Think twice about the journalism experience you already have before opting to spend another year studying (and paying for it).

Business School: test to take: GMAT  – It is common belief that you need three to five years minimum work experience before applying to an MBA program, but this doesn’t mean you can’t apply earlier and some people do. Sometimes, receiving an MBA can strengthen your resume and increase your salary significantly. It takes a minimum of one to two years to complete business school. Definitely getting some work experience will help you decide if getting an MBA is worth the money. If you start working and your career is going well, you may be able to skip business school as you climb the corporate ladder.  Pranai Cheroo, a 2009 graduate of Tufts University and now an analyst in loan syndications and trading at BNP Paribas said he thinks he wants to eventually to get an MBA but is unsure. “If I was enjoying my job enough, I would probably stay where I am. Also, I don’t think I would go to grad school if my interests changed and I wanted to pursue other things. I’m figuring all that now as I work and gain experience.”

The Bottom Line: Try to postpone getting your MBA until you’ve gained a few years of work experience to help you decide how necessary an MBA is. Sometimes if you’re working, your company will also sponsor your education- something you might not have if you go directly after undergrad.

Liberal Arts Programs: Test to take: GRE  (Some programs do not require the GRE) There are a wide variety of programs of study. You can get a Masters in psychology, international relations, economics, the list goes on! If you’d like to be a professor in a given field, you’ll have to pursue more than a bachelor’s degree and most likely a Ph.D. Himali Gandhi, a senior from Boston University will be attending Villanova in the fall to get a Masters in Public Policy/Administration. “I was the definition of pre-law in undergrad. I was also a political science major, so I talked to some of my closer professors and discussed what kind of further education I should consider. That is when I found that law school just wasn’t for me. The people I met through pre-law society events, [like] my future professors, peers, [and] colleagues were not the kind of people I wanted to surround myself with. So I decided to do a Masters in Public Policy/Administration at Villanova! I could not think of a better choice for me and am so happy I didn’t go to law school!” Himali said. Himali said she wanted to help people and found that this was a better route for her. “I did have a thought of working at a not-for-profit before grad school, but the economy is so awful that I quickly decided against that!” Gandhi added.

The Bottom Line: Grad school can be optional. It can indeed help your resume get a further read in certain fields, but is not always necessary. However if you want to go into academia some day, you’ll have to attend graduate school for that given field.

Design School: test to take: GRE (though some programs do not require the GRE). If your undergraduate major is in a design field, you probably do not need to attend graduate school. However, if you did not study something like graphic design and decide you’d like to pursue a career in it after graduation, a master’s program will give you the education you need to enter that field. Marissa Winkler, a recent graduate from University of San Diego decided to take an alternative route when it came to more education. “At Parsons, I did an AAS (associates of applied sciences), [it was a] specialized program for people who already have a bachelor’s degree and want to change directions. I picked it because I wanted more education for Graphic Design, but my degree in Art History made me a little unprepared to go straight into a Masters or into a job. The AAS at Parsons had a mix of foundation courses and more advanced, practical knowledge that a Masters program would have” Winkler said.

The Bottom Line: If you decide you want to pursue something like fashion design or graphic design but weren’t able to study it in your undergraduate studies, pursue more education.


Whatever you do decide, remember that graduate school is a big financial and emotional investment. Now that you have an idea of what exams you need to take and what steps are needed for each profession, you can decide what you want to do. Assess whether you think you can achieve a career in your chosen field without graduate school or if graduate school is indeed necessary for your success. Then dive in, whether it is to the job market or those applications and standardized tests! 



Joanne Karchmer, the Director of Career Services at UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law
American Academy of Physician Assistants
Alison Krueger, senior at University of Pittsburgh
Pranai Cheroo, analyst at BNP Paribas
Himali Gandhi, senior at Boston University
Marissa Winkler, senior at Parson’s New School
Arvind Nishtala, fourth year student in Boston University’s Intensive Seven Year Medical Program

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