Why Graduate School?

Before you decide where to go for graduate school, you need to decide whether to go graduate school. This is a tough decision. Graduate school is not meant for everyone. Most graduate schools have demanding requirements for admission (usually based on GPA and/or performance on standardized graduate exams). Furthermore, most graduate programs only admit the top tier of students that apply. Hence, the competition in graduate school—your peers—will be talented students. You should realize that it will require much work on your part.

Determine if Graduate School is Right for You

There are pros and cons to attending graduate school, and you should understand both sides of the issue. 

Pros

  • A graduate degree can open more doors for employment, and, even more importantly, advancement.
    Many companies look specifically to hire students with graduate degrees. Also, once with a company, your chances of being promoted within the company increase with an advanced degree.
  • You can earn money while going to graduate school.
    Most schools offer assistantships—a part-time job with the University. The duties associated with an assistantship are varied and depend upon the school and department. Most likely, your duties will be involved with teaching in some manner: you may teach your own class or you may assist another instructor. Also included with an assistantship is a full or partial tuition waiver; you will typically no (or very little) tuition. An even better deal is a fellowship: this is similar to an assistantship, but without any duties whatsoever. Fellowships are very attractive, but also very competitive, and not all universities offer them.

Cons

  • By attending graduate school for two years, you "lose out" on two years of income.
    With undergraduate math/stat majors starting jobs paying significantly more than graduate assistantships, this is pretty difficult to ignore. However, this argument is tempered somewhat by the nature of the work involved in the assistantship.
  • Going to graduate school, even with an assistantship, would be very demanding.
    This is partially true, and even so you will have to budget your time. A student on an assistantship will usually take approximately 10-12 hours of coursework. On top of this add your assistantship duties, and you will appreciate the necessity of budgeting your time wisely. Note, however, that your coursework will most likely be very focused. Whereas as an undergraduate you might be taking 18 hours of courses in as many as six different subject areas, in graduate school, you will focus or concentrate in one discipline. Rather than having to "shift gears" several times during the day, you will concentrate on one subject.  
  • Not everyone with a graduate degree gets a job.
    The stories of Ph.D.s driving taxis are not entirely apocryphal, but whether you get a good job is very discipline-dependent. There are many disciplines in which the demand for graduates is greater than the supply. This is an important issue to address before you consider graduate school. Ask questions of your faculty advisor and instructors. Make sure your graduate degree will lead to meaningful employment. A good way to determine whether the degree you are interested in will lead anywhere is to ask a department how successful their graduates are at obtaining relevant jobs. Ask to see where each of their graduates for the past five years has gone. Get specific information about the kind of job and let this help you in your decision.

Choose Your School

Once you have decided to attend Graduate School, you need to determine where.

Consider the best fit

You need to consider the following factors when narrowing down your choice of schools:

  • Degree you are pursuing
    Are going for a master's degree, a Ph.D., or both? Most Ph.D. schools offer both the master's and Ph.D. while other schools, like Miami's Department of Mathematics, offers only a master's degree. Talk to your instructors. They will have a good idea of your capability and which programs might be a good fit for you.
  • Size of the program
    Programs come in all sizes, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both types. Larger programs (those with over a 100 graduate students) will typically offer a wider variety of programs and courses, but at the expense of being a "small fish in a big pond." Smaller programs usually cannot offer the breadth of programs or courses that larger programs do, but provide a smaller, more intimate atmosphere. This smaller community usually allows for more personalized instruction. It will also come in very handy when you ask for recommendations from the faculty. Some advocate that if you are coming from a smaller, regional school that your first step should be a smaller, masters-only program, their reasoning being that it will provide an easier transition to the large-scale bustle of a larger Ph.D. program. Others, however, disagree with this point of view—ask around for a variety of opinions.

Visit

Once you have narrowed down your choices, visit the departments and programs. Most graduate programs encourage students to visit, and you should take advantage of this opportunity to evaluate the program, faculty, and students. You will certainly visit with one or more faculty members; we also encourage you to talk with the current graduate students. They will tell you exactly what to expect if decide to go to that particular school. Talk to as many students as possible to get a good picture of the program.

Apply to the Program

When you have narrowed your choices down to a few schools, apply to the programs. In many cases, your choice will depend on the financial aid that the school and program can offer you. When considering the financial aspect, be sure to ask about any hidden charges. This will make comparisons more fair at the end.  When you visit with the students at the various programs, ask about finances; they will know all the expenses you will need to make. For example, does the school charge graduate students for parking? How much? Where will you have to park? Current graduate students will know the answers to these and other important questions that you will need to address.