One of the questions that I have been asked by several YMPs is whether or not it is worth it for them to go to graduate school to get their MA in museum studies or a related field. It's a question that each person has to figure out for them self. However, after looking back at my own experience, I thought of a few points to consider:
1. Feel confident in your decision. Going to graduate school should set you on a career path and not be a temporary time filler. I have met several people who went to grad school simply because they didn't know to do with themselves after college. That usually led to dropping out or receiving a degree that was never used. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind midstream, but avoid unnecessary heartache and debt by assessing your commitment to the program. And, if you are already working in the field, ask yourself if you can continue to advance without further education.
2. Graduate school is not like college. I loved my undergrad experience and made a lot of great friends. I went to grad school thinking that I was going to have a similar experience--boy, was I wrong. There are fewer people, they are in a different phase of their lives, they are fiercely competitive, and slacking off isn't an option. I know not everyone's experience is the same, but I think most would agree that the experience can be disappointing if you're expecting a sequel to your first four years.
3. Shop around. Not all graduate schools are created equal--especially museum studies programs. Learn the difference between a certificate and a degree. Also, plan ahead. If you think you are going to want a full degree (which, let's face it, if you are going to bother to take out a student loan and expend the time to go back to school, you'll want the full degree)then plan for it from the beginning. Also, some programs require that you get a degree within a larger field (art, anthropology, etc) and then take course work in museum studies, while others offer more general museum studies degrees.
4. Commit to finishing the program. I am very happy that I went to grad school and love my job, but every time I open that envelope from Citibank Loans I wince a little. I justify it in my mind as an investment in myself, but if I hadn't completed the program (which crossed my mind more than once) I would still be paying back my loans without the privilege of having the degree.
5. Know how you are going to support yourself. I know that there are a few people out there whose parents can pay for their graduate education (and they better be counting their blessings), but for the rest of us, we have to rely on jobs, spouses, and loans. I knew that I would have to work during graduate school, so one of the major selling points of my program was that classes were offered in the evening. If you can swing it, don't work while in school--or work as little as possible. Spend that time making the most of your graduate education by reading all of the materials, making sure your work is top notch, and seizing every opportunity.
6. Talk with people who have been or are currently in graduate school. Ask them about what they like and don't like about their program. Ask your mentor or employer where he or she went to school.
Grad school can be fun and rewarding, but it is also tough and wearisome. The greater sense you can have of what the grad school experience will be like, the better prepared, more successful, and happier you will be.
Other thoughts on grad school?