Grad School FAQ’s

Should I go to graduate school?

Depends on what kind of work you want to do and if you need a graduate degree to do it… Do you like school? Are you pretty self-disciplined, good at taking the initiative in planning what you want to learn? Are you willing to spend at least two years to get an M.A. (Master’s degree) or at least 5-6 years to get a Ph.D. (Doctorate)?

There are a lot of jobs you can do with a B.A., but it won’t usually be as a professional sociologist or anthropologist, which usually requires at least an M.A., and often a Ph.D.

If I go, should I get a master’s or a doctorate?

Depends on what type of work you might want to do. You need a doctorate in order to teach at the college-level, but you can often do research or museum work with a master’s degree. You can get a master’s degree first, work for a while, and then go on to a doctorate if you find professional work as a sociologist or anthropologist to your liking.

Note that some of the best graduate programs only accept people who want to work for a Ph.D. But many others will accept you for either program. Getting a Ph.D. is a long haul; it can be worth it, but you should think about it first.

When should I go to grad school?

If you were to drop by the average grad school today, you’d probably find that only a minority of their students have gone straight through from their B.A. Many people now work a couple of years before they come back.  Many grad programs actually prefer students who have some “field” experience before they start their professional program, especially if it’s related to their course of graduate study. Several of us here in the department finished our Ph.D.’s when we were in our 30’s and 40’s; you don’t need to finish when you’re 26, and in fact it would be unusual to finish your Ph.D. nowadays before you’re 30. If you want to go straight on, that’s O.K., but you don’t need to; there’s often more pressure to keep going to school in the sciences than in the social sciences, where life experience and maturity may be helpful in your graduate studies. Most graduate programs in social work, by the way, require that applicants have two years work experience before they even apply, as a “reality check” and to bring some experience with them to their graduate training.

Where should I go?

Depends on what field you would like to concentrate on… for example, if you’re considering anthropology, you would normally choose a school that emphasizes some specialty that you are interested in, such as medical anthropology or an area like Latin America, rather than a “generic” grad school. Ask around, look at catalogs, check out the Web (most grad schools have their own homepage now), and see which faculty are teaching at the grad schools you are considering and what sort of courses are being offered. Which faculty have you enjoyed reading in your courses here, and where do they teach?

Another consideration is cost.

Do you want to go to a state school where you can get in-state tuition, or to a state school at the out-of-state price or a private university (same price for everyone)? What can you afford? Since you’ll be 21 +, you may qualify for in-state tuition after a year of study; find that out. You may want to move to the area where you’ll be going to school, work a year for experience and to get in-state status, and then start your program. Ask about what sort of financial support is available from the program; there is less available now than there used to be, especially at state-supported programs, but some is still there. Are there T.A. and R.A. (teaching assistantships and research assistantships) positions available for grad students to help support you while you’re in the program, as well as give you some additional teaching or research experience?

Another consideration is what are your grades like here? If you want to go to a “top 20” program, you’ll likely need to have about a 3.5+ and good scores on your GRE’s (Graduate Record Exams); if you want to go to a good but not top 20 program, you will still likely need a 3.0+, though it’s worth checking around. M.A. programs are usually easier to get into; if your record here isn’t as good as you’d like, you might establish a good record in a master’s program and then apply for a Ph.D. program afterwards (you would usually get credit for the graduate work you’ve already done, depending on the program involved).

Graduate Record Exams (GRE’s)

You can take these anytime they’re offered (usually three times a year, publicized well in advance). The results are usually good for 5 years; that is, you could take them this spring, and use the scores (if they turn out well) to apply for grad school two years from now. You can also take them later, if you want to study more before you take them. You can also re-take them later and use the second scores to apply for grad school if your scores improve. The better the reputation of the grad school in which you’re interested, the more likely they will require GRE scores as part of your application; high scores can be important, especially if your grade point is lower.

Where can I get further information?

Ask your adviser or other faculty–we all have different experiences and different information.  Ask former St. Olaf students who are now in graduate programs (we have one who is well along in the grad program at Notre Dame, for example).  Check out the catalogs and flyers we have in the department. Check out the internet “homepages” many graduate programs now have; click on individual faculty and see what kind of research they are doing, what they’ve published recently, and so forth. Go to the annual sociology or anthropology meetings with faculty who are going; there are many grad students there giving papers, and you can grab them and ask them about their programs, as well as see what grad students do. Visit the campus or program you are interested in; ask grad students there what the program is like (just having famous faculty does NOT guarantee it’s a good program to be a grad student in), how the financial support is, whether students tend to finish the program or drop out, etc.

***All of this probably sounds like a lot of work, but it’s a good investment. If you are thinking about spending 2-7 years doing additional college work, you owe it to yourself to make the best choices possible.***

(Note that this advice has focused on M.A. and Ph.D. programs in academic sociology or anthropology. There are other graduate programs that our students have gone into as well. These include law and medicine, M.Div. (theology/pastoral) programs, M.S.W. (master’s in social work), and master’s programs in urban studies or social planning, (such as the Humphrey Institute at the U of Minnesota). Much of this same advice applies to them, but you should check out appropriate faculty in biology, religion, social work, and so forth if you are thinking about graduate work in these areas).