Should I go to graduate school?
Only you can answer that question and it’s not one to be considered lightly. When deciding to go to graduate school, you need to assess what you expect from a graduate degree and what program will suit you best. You also need to take a critical look at yourself. Consider your interests, goals, dreams, and abilities.
Why would I want to go to graduate school?
There are many reasons why people decide to go to graduate school. Some of these include increasing their income and career advancement, changes in interests, and continuing education needs.
Many people who decide to go to grad school do so after working for a while. Sometimes the upper levels of their field may be closed to people without an advanced degree or they may feel that their career options are limited by their skills. Those who want to teach in a junior college or university need an advanced degree. If you want to do research, you need an advanced degree. Others may feel that their interests and skills have changed over the years and no longer apply to their undergraduate education. If you want to appeal to a broader employer base and increase your earning potential an advanced degree can help.
When should I go?
There are good arguments for both going to graduate school right away, and after a few years of work. If you go directly into grad school after graduating or receiving, you already have the momentum and discipline that school requires and you may have fewer obligations such as children or finances. The down side to going directly into grad school is the bill. It can be difficult to pay off the debt you build up when financing your education.
Should you choose to work first, your outlook on education and what’s important to you may change over time. You may be able to save money for school or your employer might reimburse your expenses as part of a benefits package. You also have the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience in real world situations. The down side to going directly into the work force is that you may have many more obligations, such as children, and the expense for school may not rest solely on your shoulders.
What degree should I pursue?
Once you’ve decided that you want to go to grad school and have chosen an area of study, you need to decide if you are going to get your Master’s degree or your Doctorate. If you need to work while getting your graduate degree you should chose the less demanding of the two, the Master’s degree. The Master’s degree requires that you take courses (usually 33 to 45 units), take an exam, and produce a thesis or project. For the most part, a Master’s degree can be completed in about a year if you attend full-time or two years if you attend part-time.
A Ph.D. requires much more discipline and dedication and for that reason it is not recommended that you work during this time. The degree requires that you take courses throughout the first year or two, then complete a dissertation or exam. The following year or two will be spent on research. Research is done to find an answer to a question not already answered.
Where should I go?
Deciding where to go to school is a difficult decision; it depends on what you want to study. You should choose a grad school with a program that suits your personal goals as well as fulfilling your professional goals. Ask around: people that work in the field may be able to offer some insight into your quest for the perfect school. One way to research grad schools is to use a websites like www.gradschools.com. This site allows you to search for graduate programs by geographical area or by keyword. Some California schools that have graduate environmental studies programs include:
- California State University, Fullerton.: M.S. Environmental Studies
- Humboldt State University: M.A. Environment and Community
- Monterey Institute of M.A.: International Environmental Policy International Studies
- San Jose State University: M.S. Environmental Studies
- University of California, Berkeley: M.A., M.S., Ph.D. Energy and Resources M.S., Ph.D. Environmental Science, Policy and Management
- University of California, Davis: M.S., Ph.D. Ecology, Horticulture and Agronomy, Hydrologic Sciences, International Agricultural Development, Soils and Biogeochemistry, and Transportaton Technology and Policy
- University of California Irvine: M.A., Ph.D. Urban and Regional Planning; Ph.D. Environmental Analysis and Design; Ph.D. Social Ecology; M.S., Ph.D. Environmental Health Science and Policy
- University of California, Santa Barbara: M.E.S.M, Ph.D. Environmental Science and Management; Ph.D. Environmental and Resource Economics
- University of California, Santa Cruz: Ph.D. Environmental Studies
- University of Southern California: M.A. Global Environmental Issues
CSUS Graduate School
California State University Sacramento does not offer a graduate degree in Environmental Studies, but does offer many other graduate degree choices. The CSUS Office of Graduate Studies website offers all of the information that you need to know about the graduate programs and online applications.
In choosing a graduate school you must also consider your financial situation. Graduate school can be quite expensive, especially if you attend a school out-of-state. There are many ways to finance your education, but if the grad school you choose is the most expensive in the country, chances are you will have to take out loans that you have to pay off once you graduate. Try a State school. Graduate school at CSUS costs only slightly more than attending as an undergraduate.
How do I apply?
The first thing you should do after you have decided where you want to go is contact the admissions office to obtain an application and a graduate school catalogue. Arrange a visit to the university or college campus. Contact the financial aid office as well as the program director to get information about possible funding opportunities. Fill out the application, which will usually ask you to submit a “statement of purpose”; your transcripts; and, if applicable, your GRE (Graduate Record Exam) and your TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), if you are a non-native English speaker, well in advance. Have someone read over it, and do not submit an incomplete application or one that has errors.
The GRE is a subject exam and can be taken on most college campuses. For testing dates at CSUS click on the blue GRE link in the text. The idea of taking a standardized test can be scary, but they help admissions officers determine who is capable of withstanding the rigors of graduate school and offer a comparison of students of all different backgrounds. Most standardized tests are designed to measure your potential for success, not your specific knowledge or achievement. Don’t worry, your test performance is not the only factor contributing to your admittance.
Your statement of purpose should focus on the reasons that you want to attend their program. Talk about your interests in the discipline and the goals you have in mind. It is very important that you have a goal in mind when applying for graduate school. The more specific the goal, the better able you will be able to communicate your intentions to a program. It may also help you through long nights of filling out lengthy applications to remember why you want to go to graduate school.
Letters of recommendation should come from faculty members that have taught you for more than one class. If you have done research, volunteer work, or served in a leadership role, you should get a letter from those whom you worked closely with.
If you had to retake any classes or if you did poorly one semester due to an external factor, explain it in your letter. The admissions review committee should be aware of any extenuating circumstances that may not be indicative of your true academic performance.
Chances are that your applications and many others are going to be thrown into a pile to be sorted out later. Many students will have high GRE scores and high grades. One of the best ways to stand out is to get your foot in the career door. Get an internship in the field you would like to get your degree in. Many schools require their professors to publish articles and books: see if they need an assistant. If the professors can’t help you, ask a graduate student if they need help with their projects. Many times attending professional conferences can help you stand out from the crowd. Also, try joining organizations that pertain to your prospective field of study.
How many programs should I apply to?
It can be very expensive to apply to graduate school, so cost must be considered. The more applications you submit, the better your chances are of being accepted. Try not to limit yourself to any geographic area, and more importantly, if you are not accepted, don’t give up. Take some extra classes to raise your GPA or retake your standardized tests.
For more information on graduate school