Thinking about attending graduate school? Use these 5 steps to guide your decision process.

So you graduated college a few years ago and want to invest in your education again. Maybe it hasn’t been quite a year yet, but you can’t advance in your career without going back to school. Or maybe you’re still in college right now, but feel strongly about pursuing a postgraduate degree already. If you’re thinking about applying to graduate school this year, you should make a plan. You can start gathering the financial resources and strategies you need to go back to school sooner than later. Here are five steps to get you started.

1. Understand your motivation.

Ask yourself why exactly you want to attend graduate school. Many people do so to advance their career, learn a new skill, network with professors, and/or produce empirical research.

What many don’t realize is that you don’t always need to pursue graduate school to attain the same goals. If you want to learn or hone a skill, such as video editing or graphic design, consider other alternatives, such as taking online courses or auditing courses at a local university. However, some motivations, like seeking academic mentorship from a faculty member or wanting to eventually teach at a college level, can rarely be achieved outside of a university.

2. Create an application timeline.

Thinking ahead, it’s important to find out which deadlines stick out. When is the application due? Once you have that date, you can start curating your own personal timeline to not just write your personal statement, but also plan trips to visit schools, research the faculty members you’d prefer to work with, ask references for written recommendations, and take the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) or other required test, like the GMAT or LSAT.

Additionally, some programs offer spring admission, which can vary from fall deadlines not just in dates, but opportunities. For example, some schools don’t offer spring applicants the opportunity to apply for graduate assistantships outside of fall admission.

3. Register for the required standardized test.

Oftentimes, test prep companies recommend you register for the exam before you start studying and preparing for it. This is a way to hold yourself accountable, so you don’t delay scheduling your test date. And once you know your test date, you can create a month-by-month, week-by-week, or even day-by-day timeline for your study plan.

4. Find faculty you’d like to work with.

It’s easy to get caught up in programs, especially when you’re enthusiastic about a field of study. To narrow your focus, research the people—particularly the professors, current students, and alumni—behind the academic departments you’re interested in.

Ask specific questions when researching faculty members. What have they published? What research have they pursued? What kind of classes do they teach? What are their academic interests? That way, when you’re visiting campus, speaking to those from the program, and writing your application essays, you’ve already conducted your research and can clearly advocate why you belong in that program.

5. Start financial planning.

Unfortunately, you can’t change the fact that going back to school is expensive. Even if you’re receiving a stipend, scholarship, or other type of financial aid, you will still have to bear the expenses of everyday life and likely take on some type of student loan debt—which of course includes added interest over time.

To help prepare yourself, start your financial plan now, while you still have time to save up. Check our courses to learn about the basics of student loan debt, financial planning, investing, and more.

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 4.40.43 PM

Danielle Corcione is a freelance writer in Omaha, Nebraska. Their work has recently appeared on Upworthy and the Billfold.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.

Let's take action, Grownup.

Check out our courses to start taking action on your goals any time.

Take a course

Let's stay in touch, Grownup.