Pursuing a graduate degree in midlife or later opens the door to new possibilities. An advanced degree may increase your lifetime earnings, depending on the average salary of professionals in the field you are studying and the number of years you plan to remain in the workforce. It may also simply enhance your enjoyment of a particular subject. Careful planning for graduate school can help you feel confident in your decision to seek a master’s degree or doctorate.

Apply Early

Peterson’s, a career planning business, suggests researching graduate programs one to two years before enrolling. If the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required for admission, allow yourself time to review math formulas and vocabulary words. You will likely need letters of recommendation from references who can speak to your intellectual ability, motivation and capacity to learn. Submit all application materials, including recommendation letters, by the priority deadline for admission.

Explore Funding

Financial aid is available for graduate students who qualify. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) several months before your intended start date. If you are working, ask whether your employer will reimburse you for continuing education. Compete for graduate assistantships and fellowships, which are part-time academic positions for graduate students. Teaching, research and administrative positions on campus typically include a stipend and tuition waiver. Stanford University also recommends investigating external fellowships offered through government agencies, private foundations and corporations.

Freshen Up Writing and Research Skills

Graduate students rely heavily on technology for research and communication with peers, professors and the university. Before classes start, familiarize yourself with the university’s email system and Web portals, particularly library services. For much of your academic work, you will be able to access articles online through your library’s data base that is connected to libraries around the world. Review the rules for citing sources in your written work to avoid unintended plagiarism. Resources such as the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) provide discipline-specific instruction on how to cite sources in American Psychological Association (APA) style, Chicago Manual Style and Modern Language Association (MLA) style.

Upgrade Technology Skills

Online classes and some on-campus courses require knowledge of Web-based instructional course management systems that students use to access assignments, submit homework and check their grades. Familiarize yourself with the course management system at your school. (Reference 5) Learn about quantitative and qualitative software programs used by graduate students in your program. The campus library or information technology department on your campus will likely offer workshops or online training modules to help students achieve technical proficiency.

Develop Your Support Network

Graduate education is intense, rigorous and time consuming. Family and work will compete with school for your attention. It is normal to feel emotionally drained and overwhelmed at times. To cope with the pressures you will face from many directions, a support network is beneficial. Some schools offer support services specifically designed for graduate students. For example, the Office of Adult, Graduate and Off-Campus Student Services at Texas A&M provides graduate students with a newsletter, listserv, resources and referrals. Just making a new friend or two in graduate school can help you stay motivated.

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