December 2023 Blog: Deciding on Graduate School

Deciding on Graduate School: Navigating the Decision-Making Process and Integrating it into Your Life

Within the University of Memphis Graduate School, numerous current and prospective students often contemplate whether graduate school aligns with their future plans. Whether they've recently completed their undergraduate studies, aim to enhance their knowledge, contemplate a career shift, or explore other possibilities, addressing these inquiries and seeking guidance on the matter is a common and expected part of the academic journey.

Dr. Deborah Tollefsen, our esteemed Vice Provost & Graduate School Dean, graciously provides valuable insights on this matter. We trust that her perspectives will be informative, helpful, and inspiring for you.

How do I know if graduate school is right for me?

person on laptopI always encourage students to follow their passion. If you want to continue your studies in a field that you are passionate about, graduate school provides you with the opportunity to continue learning past your baccalaureate degree, and for many, it opens new career possibilities. For instance, many leadership positions in business, health care, non-profit, and technology, require candidates to have a graduate degree. You might consider taking graduate school for a “test drive.”  You can do this by enrolling as a non-degree-seeking student and taking a graduate-level course in your desired field. This allows you to get a sense of the expectations of graduate-level work as well as make a connection with graduate faculty in a particular department.  If this is of interest to you, make sure you reach out to the program coordinator in the department so that they can verify that the course you take as a non-degree-seeking student could be used to fulfill degree requirements if you are accepted to the graduate program as a degree-seeking student in the future. 

Should I get a job or start a career before going to graduate school?

person on laptopThis is a great question. For some graduate programs, having some “real-world” experience is often helpful and even expected of their students. For instance, if you are interested in pursuing an MBA, it would be good to have some experience in business or a related field. Getting a job after your undergraduate studies may also help you to decide what you ultimately want to do or find out what you don’t want to do! It will also help you to establish some financial stability. Some employers offer educational benefits and will assist you in pursuing your graduate degree.  Finally, full-time employment can help you develop communication skills that will help you succeed in graduate school. Taking a year or two off before you return to graduate school can be a really great opportunity to mature, identify your goals, and make plans for the future. The trick is to make sure that you don’t get so busy you put off graduate school indefinitely.
For some graduate programs, moving right from undergraduate to graduate study is the norm, however.  For instance, if you major in one of the natural sciences and would like to become a researcher or work in a research lab that requires a PhD, it might be best to apply for graduate programs right away so that the knowledge you gained in your undergraduate coursework stays fresh and you can begin to build on it in graduate school right away.  Talking with your professors in your home department about your discipline      and its practices would be helpful here.  They will be most knowledgeable about how to be successful in graduate school. 

How am I going to be able to juggle work, family, and graduate school?

person with children on laptopI wish I could tell you that it is easy.  But it’s not. It took me 9 years to finish my graduate work. I did a master’s degree that took two years and then it took me 7 years to finish my PhD. Five years is typical for a doctorate in my field, but I had two children during my doctoral studies.  Life happens—either by choice or by accident---and we need to make difficult decisions between priorities and obligations. That doesn’t mean giving up on our goals.  It just means shifting gears and perhaps taking some time off. It is also crucial that you have a support network. I could not have finished graduate school without the help of my husband who co-parented and allowed me time each day to work on my dissertation.  You need family and friends who can support you and encourage you to keep pursuing your dreams. Many of our graduate students work full-time and pursue a degree part-time. Although this lengthens the time it takes to receive a degree, it makes graduate study possible financially and emotionally. Finally, to juggle work, family, and graduate school you need organizational and time-management skills. LinkedIn has some great short courses (because who has time!) on time-management and organizational skills: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/?u=74654258


Julie Edelman  JULIE EDELMAN

  From: Columbus, Ohio and currently lives in Heidelberg, Germany

  Studying: UofM Global College of Health Sciences student pursuing her master's in Environment Nutrition

  UofM was the right choice for me because it's so flexible! It fits around my schedule and—most importantly—my time zone! 

  Favorite professor: I love the way Dr. Roach approaches learning. I’m now in my third class with her and am very grateful! 

  It was important to me to advance my education because: #1) I really wanted to show my daughters that a mom can also be and do more if she chooses#2) I was working as a nutritionist for a few years before starting this degree, and while I felt like I was doing good work and really helping people, I wanted to help more people, not just the individuals and families who could afford it Germany is a true meritocracy, so if you don’t have a degree in something, you can’t do the thing. I really want to make systemic change in the local food system: I’m getting a degree to show them I have the knowledge and ability to do just that. 

Read her feature story! >


  • Last Day of Classes: December 6th
  • Exam Dates: December 8th-14th
  • Commencement: December 17th
  • Grad School Administrative Office Closed for Christmas Break: December 25th-29th