After four long years of undergrad, taking on a graduate degree isn’t for everyone. If you were planning to attend grad school and ended up changing your mind, or if you’ve already started grad school and decided you don’t want to continue, you’re not alone! Changing your mind about grad school may seem like a huge deal, but just know that you have plenty of other options when it comes to your future.
What to do if you’ve changed your mind about grad school completely
So you’ve decided that you no longer want to attend grad school. Don’t stress yourself out! It’s okay that you changed your mind. Even if you’re unsure of what you want right now, you have time. You can always make the decision to go to grad school later on.
“You should examine your motivation for applying to grad school,” says Lesley Mitler, co-founder of Early Stage Careers.“Do you really want to continue your studies or are you fearful of leaving school?” She explains that “if you accept an offer at a grad school and change your mind about that school or [about] attending grad school at all, you can rescind that acceptance—you are not legally bound to attend.”
Even if you are still considering grad school, it’s important to be aware of your career options as well. “You should research and understand the jobs you qualify for and apply to those that appeal to you,” says Mitler.
Alexandra Whitehead, a senior at SUNY Buffalo State, had been planning on attending grad school since she was a preteen. Once she started undergrad, however, she changed her mind. “Every semester, I was mentally drained from the work and would be fed up with school,” she says. “Until recently, it didn't occur to me that I have been attending school for 17 years. Seventeen years of being an over-achiever who pushed [myself] to excel and receive the best grades possible. Thinking about adding another two years to that made my brain want to implode. I would love to attend grad school but I just don't think I can mentally do it anymore. I'm ready to end this ‘school’ chapter of my life and start a fresh, new one. Maybe this will change in the near future but as of now, I'm very content with not attending.”
While it is important to always keep your options open, it’s essential to do what makes you happy!
Now that you’ve decided to hold off on more schooling, you need to determine what you are going to do instead. “You can delay grad school and work for a few years to confirm your commitment to your field of study,” says Mitler. “This may enable you to save some money while getting real world professional experience. This work experience might be advantageous when finishing graduate school in helping you [to] get a post-graduate job.”
So polish up your resume, and start applying for jobs and internships. Utilize your alma mater—every school has a number of resources available for graduates looking for their first job out of college.
Mitler recommends using social media, specifically LinkedIn and Instagram, as a resource to “identify, research and learn about corporate culture and current job opportunities.” She also suggests browsing company websites, which “allow you to research background information on lines of business, read recent press and learn about specific internship and graduate programs for college and graduate students.”
Amber Layfield, a senior at Appalachian State, says that she was completely set on going to grad school right after she finished undergrad. “I had spreadsheets with school names, programs I was interested in, the application due date, everything you could think of,” says Amber. “I was studying for the GRE last summer, but before I knew it the fall semester had started and I was swept up in school, work and my organizations. I was exhausted…so I talked to my mentor and decided taking a year or two off before going back to school would be good for me. I wanted to get some experience in my field and in life too, and so far it's working out well. I'm searching for a job or a paid internship, but I know this was the right choice for me!”
If you don’t want to jump into the workforce right away, consider spending time abroad, enrolling in a service learning program like AmeriCorps or City Year, or applying for The Disney College Program. Change is inevitable; it’s all about how you handle it.
What to do if you’ve decided against the program or college you’re currently in
If you are unhappy in your program or your choice of school in general, consider whether you would still like to attend grad school. You may not want to give up on the degree altogether; maybe you just need to make some changes.
“After starting grad school, some people come to the realization that either the career path or academia is not the right choice,” says Mitler. “It is best to leave as soon as you are no longer committed to that career or to continuing in school.”
Sydnee Lyons, a first year grad student at Florida Atlantic University, is having doubts about completing her program. “As the first year of my program comes to a close, I've noticed myself slipping back to how I'm used to being in school—demanding too much of myself and thinking about school every second of every day,” says Sydnee. “Of course, I want the credentials and the knowledge, but it feels as though it comes at the price of my peace of mind. I just think that, beyond a certain age, school shouldn't be anyone's biggest worry in life. And if it is, like it is for me, then grad school may not be the best choice.”
Take the time to sit down and talk with your advisor, a teacher, mentor, or even a trusted friend or family member. They can assist you in weighing your options and provide information that will help you find a better fit. Mitler suggests contacting the director of admissions as soon as possible if you are having second thoughts. “This dialogue may help you to get more clarity on your decision to determine if you are right to question and change your mind,” she says. If you’re still unsure, try re-researching the program or reaching out to past graduates to find out where they are now. Also, be sure to research career fields that are available to you if you do decide to drop out.
There are other options when it comes to graduate school. For instance, if the cost of grad school is one of your concerns, Mitler recommends enrolling in online courses or online degree programs. “This enables you to obtain a degree without accumulating all the debt of a full time graduate school program,” she says. “Another option is to work for a company that after a few years of employment partially or fully funds graduate school on a part-time basis, post-work hours.”
Whatever you decide, just know that giving up grad school isn’t quitting. You’re simply starting a new chapter of your life—so make the best of it! Don’t get discouraged; always keep moving forward. Set new goals, and go after them. You’ll be killing it in the real world in no time!