Suppose that while you’re in college, one of your professors challenges you to look at the world from a different perspective. Or perhaps you discover that you’re really good at research and writing. Or you’re realizing that your classes are making you want to learn more about your discipline–even teach it. At this point, you might be asking, “Should I go to graduate school?”

Given that it usually takes 3-7 years to get a PhD and academia is extremely competitive, this is no light question to be asking. Here are a few things to consider before applying to graduate school.

Do I have what it takes to go to graduate school?

Professional academics wear a lot of hats, from researching and writing, to presenting and teaching. You’ll need to be independent, focused, self-directed, and passionate about your discipline to succeed.

Is getting a PhD worth the time and money?

Your peers will be starting jobs and earning money; your income (if it exists at all) will be much more modest. Carefully weigh the expected payoff against the time and money spent and opportunities forgone.

Am I going to graduate school for the right reasons?

Some people go to grad school because they’ve aren’t sure what they’d like to do after getting their undergrad degree—they’re trying “find themselves.” This is not a good reason to enroll in a PhD program, given the challenges I’ve already mentioned above. Go to graduate school only if it’s what you really want to do.

Can I secure funding from my PhD program?

A good degree program which believes in your potential will offer you at least some funding, even if it won’t fully fund your degree. If you can’t secure financial assistance in any of the PhD programs you apply to, it could be a sign that academia is not the right career path for you.

What do I have to look forward to?

Once you have your PhD, you’ll enter the world of academia and all it entails: balancing research with teaching, working to get your research published, and seeking tenure. If this excites you, and if you have a good idea of what you want to study, going to graduate school might be a worthwhile choice for you.

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