Just Tell Me What I Need to Know: Should I Go to Grad School After College?
When we are faced with the question of whether or not to go to grad school, the first reaction that we usually have as human beings is mostly these questions.
What can I get after grad school?
What do I want to be after grad school?
How much profit/salary would I make after grad school?
In our narrow-minded postmodern mindset, we are usually tempted, even as Christians, to always think from the perspectives and principles of the world that moves toward an individualistic utopia and mundane happiness. Whereas, in this very case, we should actually go back to biblical principles and always ask God where to head at every crossroad in our lives.
This question about grad school, which ties in closely with life direction, actually deals with calling and vocation in its very core. Romans 8:28-29says that all things in our lives work together for our good—for the good of we who have been called according to God’s (divine and eternal) plan. Grad school is not outside of this. It is an integrated and intertwined part of our lives, and God’s induced processes in it make us a better follower of Christ.
Having said that, let me offer the following three questions to help you think about whether you are called to grad school at this time. Beyond answering these questions, the remaining months before you need to make a decision are really about praying and listening to God’s direction—and I can’t help much with that!
1. What talents (hence calling) has God given me?
Every person is certainly given a set of talents by God. These gifts are then to be exercised and multiplied in God’s ministry. But don’t get me wrong—the ministry I mean here is not just church activities. Martin Luther, the father of the church Reformation, defined der Beruf in German (or “vocation” in English) to be any work and any job in the world. If you are a pastor, then you have to give your best in your pastoral activities to God. If you are a florist, then you have to give your best to create the most beautiful bouquets for the glory of God. If you are an engineer or scientist like me, you should give your best to create the most sophisticated works/systems to the best of your scientific knowledge.
The very same principle applies when we try to find a direction for grad school studies. Many years ago, I graduated as a computer engineer in Indonesia. Then God sparked in my mind an idea to go abroad for grad school. Since I felt that I had always been gifted in engineering, among other areas, I decided to pursue a Master of Science in computer engineering. I remembered what one of my professors in undergrad study had said: “If you want to be a chili, be the hottest chili that you can be!” What he really meant was, don’t change majors when you study.
Some people think that it is a fruitful course to have an undergrad degree in engineering and a graduate degree in, for example, economics, so that they can marry the two; they believe that this kind of skillset is what the world needs today. I didn’t take this route. However, I also know that some people sincerely pray and struggle with God and, yes, feel him leading them to change their major when they get to grad school. I would concur with this reason for changing your major, as this is very biblical.
Changing directions or sticking to one is important, but what is more important is to ask God for sensitivity and obedience to his leading, as much as we are thoughtful in all the pros and cons about the decisions we make in life. When God is leading, let our hearts be joyful like Mary’s (Luke 1:26-38) when she said: “Lord, let thy will be done in my life because I am your servant!”
2. Where should I study?
This is a more practical question, but we should also relate it back to the first principle: know your God-given talents! The place that I chose for my Master of Science degree was Europe. Aside from engineering, I felt that I was gifted in arts, history, and many other related fields. And the senior pastor at my church loved the arts, architecture, and history, and would tell us stories about European art and history in a very vivid and lively manner. As an art lover, this had triggered my curiosity about Europe for many years. I therefore chose the Netherlands as the country I would study in because it is artful, historical, and located in the heart of Europe. I planned to travel around Europe at that time to see all the artwork and historical sites. And that was what I did! I felt blessed to be there and to be able to travel to different countries. My engineering knowledge was built and my other areas were sufficiently exercised as well.
For my PhD, God delayed my going into it (although I had had the desire for many years before) for different reasons that I am not going to share here for now. Subsequently after getting my master’s degree, God sent me back home, brought into my life the beautiful and graceful lady who now is my wonderful wife, and provided a job for me in my industry as an expatriate for almost four years, before he sent me back to graduate school. It was a long journey, but it was worth the time walking with God.
I chose the U.S. for my PhD after discussing it with my wife. This had to do more with my main goal, which was to become a more skillful computer engineer and scientist! The U.S. is simply a hub for technology and opportunities in computer-related fields. So I didn’t see a better place to study, and God confirmed this decision by putting me at the University of California–Irvine today. And, after praying and struggling with God throughout the process, I am more and more convinced that asking God about our talents, as well as what he wants to do with them and how he wants to shape them in our lives, are the most important questions.
3. What about after grad school?
For me, this is not a short-term question and something that I am just going to think about after completing grad school. God called me with a vision many years ago to love my country and my people, and to do something to support them. Indonesia is not advanced in terms of technology and its economy. It has a lot of people, but not everyone is willing to do something positive for it. Even after 70 years of sovereignty and independence from the Dutch, we are still considered a Third World country. Having been blessed with many opportunities over the years, I am compelled to believe that God doesn’t give them to just anybody. He specifically gave opportunities to me for specific reasons that he created me for.
Hence, I have a vision that I am still praying about these days, just like Joseph when he had a dreamthat one day everyone would bow down to him. I see that policy-making and community-bridging are the most important things in society, especially in Indonesia. Policies are supposed to be instituted by our House of Representatives and executed by our government, but that usually doesn’t happen very smoothly. This has made many expatriates and foreign investors leave Indonesia for more conducive neighboring countries, such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam. I don’t know what I am going to be exactly, but I have been making commitments every day about letting God lead my way step by step.
My advice to you is to start thinking about what God is calling you to do after grad school and start praying about it even before you start the admissions process. Pray, open your heart with obedience, execute, and he will lead you all the way, just like when he called and led Abraham in Genesis and John in Revelation. Also, don’t be afraid to take the first step and make mistakes along the process! It is really a lifetime process, and our God loves us so much that he is even willing to walk with us through the rights and the wrongs. The biggest mistake is actually when we never take our first step!
So, what do you need to know about grad school? Well, pray about your calling and ask God! Soli Deo gloria (“all the glory to God”)!
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.
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