Author: Amanda I. Seligman

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press – 161 pages

Book Review by:  Sonu Chandiram

Through eight chapters revealing straight-forward facts and observations about the whats and whatnots, the hows, whys and wherefores of pursuing a post college-level education  this outstanding book on the subject of higher education answers your all-important question of whether or not you should go to graduate school. And that of course is a big question with many parts to it. But I believe this is the one guide you need because it pretty much covers everything.

The author of this book – Amanda I. Seligman – is an associate professor of history and director of the Urban Studies Programs at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. It seems like she is not just an academic person, but a street-smart woman as well, having authored the book Block by Block: Neighborhoods and Public Policy on Chicago’s West Side.  

Among the important topics this well-organized book covers, include:

 ∙ Qualifications and admission guidelines

 ∙ Financial aid and graduate stipends

 ∙ Meeting expectations and residency requirements

 ∙ Coursework, theses, dissertations

 ∙ Degrees, jobs and academic careers

 ∙ Tenure, research and peer review

 ∙ Social life (will you still have one?)

What are your reasons for wanting to go to graduate school? Whether it is to get deeper into your college major before entering the working world, to have a competitive edge before applying for your first job, to enhance your knowledge in your chosen field for professional advancement, or other motives in your mind, this book is very helpful.

An excellent feature of Is Graduate School for You? is its question-and-answer format. Each topic within each chapter starts with a question. With respect to the questions that are posed, this book is quite comprehensive. Questions most readers would have in their minds, plus questions they probably did not even think about, are asked and answered.

In the first chapter for example – So You Want to Graduate School – one of the questions asked that is seldom brought forth is: Is it possible for a student to go to graduate school in a discipline other than one studied as an undergraduate?

The answer is “yes” and this is possible in some colleges even at the undergraduate level. (For example, a Wikipedia article reveals that Will Shortz, the famous crossword puzzles editor for the New York Times, designed his own curriculum program in enigmatology – the study of puzzles – and was graduated in 1974 with a degree in that field from the University of Indiana).

In the second chapter – Financing Your Education – an important question asked is: What forms of financial aid are available to graduate students? If you are a recent college graduate that borrowed money and have to begin repaying within six months of graduation, that is a key consideration even if you work part-time and will be making some money.

But the good news is that some universities pay graduate students to attend. So you can explore in this book what types of financial aid is available to you, and where and how you can get money to attend graduate school.

What is expected of you in graduate school? Read the third chapter – Graduate Expectations – especially the answer to the question: What characteristics are most valuable for success in graduate school?  If you are not the type of person who finds it easy and pleasurable to study, and you will have to spend another two or more years studying at a higher level than college, you better think hard before going into graduate school

The author writes in the fourth chapter – Coursework is Hard Work – that “the central purpose of graduate programs is create scholars who are capable of conceptualizing lines of inquiry and executing projects that lead to new knowledge.” In other words, you are supposed to do research to discover new “stuff.”

So if you found it hard – at the undergraduate level – to absorb knowledge that was already created by others, how will you create new knowledge for others that’s required of you in graduate school?

Among the hard work that you have to do in graduate school is a thesis or dissertation. Searching for a new area of knowledge to explore deeper, writing a thesis proposal, getting it approved, gathering data and doing the research for the thesis, writing the thesis and getting it accepted, are not easy tasks. Doing work on a dissertation is even more difficult. Explore all this in the fifth chapter – Dissertations and Theses.

After getting their MA or PhD degrees, graduate students may decide to work outside of or within the academic world. If you plan on working in a university, it is in graduate school that you familiarize yourself with what is expected of you to progress in your chosen field. This is the subject of chapter 6 – The Academic Culture – wherein you learn about tenure, keeping abreast in your field by subscribing to journals, presenting papers at academic conferences, and the like.

As in all pursuits, it is important to take breaks to refresh yourself mentally and physically – to “get a life.” How do you do that in graduate school, with all the hard studying you have to do? Read the 7th chapter – Having a Life in Graduate School.

The final chapter – Degrees, Jobs, and Academic Careers – answers questions such as: What are the employment prospects of a newly-minted PhD? and: Do universities hire their own PhDs as faculty?

All in all, this is a very helpful book for those thinking about going to graduate school.