Grad Guide 2007: Click for special section.
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Graduate School

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Ben Baron
Vice President of Graduate Programs, Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions
Wednesday, April 25, 2007; 11:00 AM

Ben Baron, Vice President of Graduate Programs for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, was online Wednesday, April 25, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss when a graduate degree is necessary, how to get into the best programs, how to pay for it, when you should go and other questions on your mind about continuing education.

Kaplan is a subsidiary of The Washington Post Company.

The transcript is below.Ben Baron: Hi, this is Ben Baron with Kaplan. As you probably know, we work with tens of thousands of students who are looking to apply to grad school every year. Thanks for participating in the Live Chat. I'm looking forward to your questions and the opportunity to provide as much helpful information as I can today. Let's get started!

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Washington, D.C.: It seems to me that pursuing a graduate degree, and incurring tens of thousands of dollars in debt in the process, seems impractical. Aren't employers more likely to hire someone who has two-three years experience and a BA rather than someone who has been in school for six years?

Ben Baron: It really depends on your professional goals and aspirations. Obviously, you can't be a doctor or lawyer without the requisite education. The likelihood of success in other disciplines also requires advanced degrees. So, the first step is to establish your long term objective. Then you can set about establishing a game plan to achieve that objective, which may or may not include grad school. Moreover, it's appropriate to think of grad school as an investment, not simply as an expense.

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Oklahoma: What are the key tips in studying for the GRE? I took it once, but I know I need to study more.

Ben Baron: As with any standardized test, the keys to success are to familiarize yourself with the content, know the test-taking strategies, and practice-practice-practice. I'd also be remiss if I didn't recommend using Kaplan to help you prepare.

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Baltimore, Md.: Recently, I obtained a B.S. in chemistry some decades later than most people do, and professors and supervisors have all told me that I have what it takes to pursue a Ph.D. in science, which backs up my unquenchable thirst to pursue an advanced science degree. When I look out at the state of the job market, however, I see that it is entirely possible to get a Ph.D. and never get a Ph.D. job, because of the intense competition. How would you advise someone on how to target their graduate school education in science to ensure the greatest possibility of employment? One thought I have is to pursue a degree in something like toxicology, which would enable me to get a job in regulatory affairs or risk assessment as well as research.

Ben Baron: Keep in mind that the primary goal of graduate education is to pursue your passion or to help you achieve your professional goals. For most people, it's a combination of both, so your question is entirely appropriate. I recommend that you research the marketability for the areas of study that most interest you. But also make sure that you have genuine interest in the path you ultimately choose.

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Arlington, Va: Mr. Baron,

I had a poor GPA 2.3 at the Univ. Of CT.

Graduated with a B.A. in Economics. I feel like I've learned a lot of life lessons. Would it be advantageous for me to take the LSAT's or is my dream of becoming a lawyer a fantasy?

Ben Baron: Your dream of becoming a lawyer is within your grasp. The LSAT is unique among graduate admissions tests in that it can count for as much as half the admissions decision. So, if you're serious about becoming a lawyer, you'll take the time and effort to do everything you can to achieve a high LSAT score. Good luck!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Ben. Thank you for taking our questions. I have been admitted to an MBA program in Europe that I would be happy to attend, but I am having reservations about spending the money, and the distance away from loved ones. I spent so much time and thought into the application process, I know that it was based on a good decision. Now that I need to fork over the deposit and leave the country, I am having second thoughts. Inasmuch as it's hard to classify normal, have you had experiences with people feeling hesitant and anxious in the final stages before grad school? Thanks.

Ben Baron: You've answered the question yourself!
"I spent so much time and thought into the application process, I know that it was based on a good decision"
It's perfectly normal to feel anxiety surrounding any major life decision (and grad school certainly qualifies as major), but it sounds to me like you're on the right track and that your decision was a sound one. Good luck and enjoy your experience!

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Charlottesville, Va.: I am a rising 4th year student at UVA. I will be applying to grad schools this fall. My goal is to study for the GRE this summer as if it's a part-time job, meaning I plan to take 1-2 hours a day for next 3 months to prepare. I'm very disciplined and am not sure if a prep class is the way to go for me. Does my test prep strategy seem adequate?

Ben Baron: Typically, students spend about three months preparing for the GRE, so your timetable seems right, as does your commitment to giving it daily attention. As I mentioned earlier, your challenge is to familiarize yourself with the content of the exam, learn the key strategies, and practice. Some students are able to achieve this on their own, while others benefit enormously from the discipline and structure imposed by a prep course or tutor.

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Washington D.C.: I'm a 40-year-old vice president at a political nonprofit. I have a bachelor's degree only. Compared to my friends, many of whom have law degrees, I'm lagging behind in earning power. Is it too late to go back to school for a graduate degree (my company wouldn't be helping) in an attempt to retool my career a bit? Would it be worth the expense (and debt) to get an MBA at this point?

Ben Baron: The short answer is no, it's not too late to return to school. But, as a "mature" candidate it's very important that you have a very clear professional objective and that you be able to articulate it clearly in your application. Also, you'll need to demonstrate that you would thrive in an academic environment populated by students who are, on average, 10 or more years younger. Finally, a high GMAT score will help address any potential concerns about whether you can succeed in the classroom.

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Newark, NJ: Mr. Baron, how have the numbers of applicants to law and b-schools been increasing? Is it ridiculously hard to get in now?

Ben Baron: Now is actually a good time to apply to law school and business school. Law school applications are in a downward cycle (which may last another year or two) and business school applications are relatively flat. That being said, the quality of applicants is quite high, so there's plenty of competition for places at the top schools.

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Re: overseas grad school: I've been accepted to an MSc IT program in the UK for October. I'm moving somewhere I want to be and I even have very close friends where I'm moving, and I'm nervous as well! It's just natural. It's a very big change in your life, of course you're going to worry about it. As long as you know it's the right thing for you to do, then do it, the nerves will take care of themselves.

Ben Baron: Thanks for sharing your perspective. It's helpful for others to hear that they're not alone in feeling anxious.

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RE: Grad degree vs. experience: For the first poster. It may seem like experience would be valued more highly, but in my profession you can't get very far without a graduate degree. I never got one, and I have been turned down for jobs solely because I did not have the degree. I even got rejected for an internal promotion that I was recruited for by the person who would have been my supervisor - she liked my work and assumed I had the degree. When she found out I didn't, that was end of it.

That's not to say you can't get a good job without a grad degree, but in some professions you will be severely limiting your options. I'm a librarian and cannot get a job worth my experience in the public, academic, or government sector. Because of my experience I have a good job, but I can't go any further than where I'm at now. I will have to get that degree to continue in my career, and now I wish I had done it while I was younger. I'm 40 and really do not want to go back to school.

Ben Baron: Thanks. Your personal experience brings the "grad school or no grad school?" issue to light. Keep in mind that a major benefit of grad school is that it can expand your professional options throughout your career.

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Charleston, SC: I am planning to go to grad school in a couple of years and need to take the GRE. It was recently announced that there will be no major changes made to the GRE this year. Should that make people like me relieved or anxious?

Ben Baron: Temporarily relieved. At Kaplan, we were encouraging students to take the test before it changed because the new test was to be longer, harder, and less convenient (fewer test dates). Now that the test is not changing, we feel that students should stay on track and take advantage of the opportunity to get the test out of the way early. That way, you can turn your attention to your applications, re-take the test (if necessary) and still be early, and avoid new question types that the testmaker might introduce in the months ahead.

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Pittsburgh, PA : I am considering going to get an MBA. Does it matter if I go to a top school? I am looking to put my MBA to use in the non-profit sector -- so I am concerned about the cost of a private school MBA.

Ben Baron: As I mentioned earlier, grad school (and particularly business school) is about preparing you to meet your professional objectives. Any decision about which school to attend (and whether to pursue and MBA at all) should be evaluated in the context of a long term investment. I always encourage prospective b-school students to aim (that is, target schools that are appropriate given their interests) but also to aim high (as that will most likely maximize their professional prospects). Good luck with your decision.

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Ben Baron: Unfortunately, we're out of time today. I appreciate your interest and participation, and I hope I've been able to provide some useful information. For those of you interested in additonal information about grad schools, visit kaptest.com
Ben

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