Navigating the intricacies of any graduate program can be difficult. It’s not that colleges and universities arrange their graduate programs to mirror crop circles,but rather, there is so much more for the average graduate student to do. Different ways of accomplishing some of the same tasks are also plentiful. Course work that, at first, may appear similar to that at the undergraduate level is soon discovered to be delivered and evaluated differently. Standard lecture formats are often replaced by faculty-directed discussions, presentations, guest speakers, and fieldwork. Reading material is often referred to, mentioned, highlighted and recommended rather than required. Some majors hold formal examinations, others do not.
Essays, reports, lab work and papers are much less structured and often completely left up to the initiative, creativity and responsibility of the student. To irritate, frustrate, and obfuscate matters even more, meeting the increased costs of graduate school often rests like an imaginary, but equally dismissive, silver scythe anxiously positioned inches above a student’s neck. Paid internships and teaching assistantships are often available, but the effort required to fulfill them cuts deeply into personal study time. In lieu of this college or university assistance, outside employment is always an option. While it may provide a steady stream of operating cash, outside employment demands that the student routinely exist in a different social world, at least for part of each study week. The role dichotomy between a graduate student and a bartender, for instance, usually acts as a distraction from complete academic concentration.
A natural result stemming from all of these potentially confusing situations is the fact that obtaining your degree will most likely take longer than you had initially anticipated. What are the average, often advertised, benchmarks? It’s widely disseminated that a typical Master’s degree should take two additional years after a four-year undergraduate degree. The Ph.D. should take another four or five years after that. It is true that students accomplish both degrees in less time but these are the approximate industry guidelines. It is also true that each year a student registers and attends graduate school, they are required to pay for tuition, books, library fees, memberships, and a host of other cash-vacuuming items on top of living expenses. This ever-increasing expense can be reasonably estimated at approximately $20,000 per year and up. Adding a year or two onto a typical graduate degree due to student confusion and frustration causing delays very quickly adds up to thousands of dollars of excessive and often avoidable expenditures.