I'm new to this forum and am mainly asking for advice. -- From a conflicted rising junior in undergrad (at an Ivy).

I'm an engineer majoring in ECE with interests in CS (definitely planning on a minor, and if sanity is sacrificed a bit, a double). I've been doing research with a professor in my major and his lab since last summer, after freshman year. So far, I've coauthored one paper that has already been presented at a conference by the first author grad student but hasn't officially been published yet. I know a lot of the advice I've read is to experience industry at least once, which I'm planning on doing the summer before senior year.

However, I'm conflicted as to whether I'm actually fit for grad school. A lot of the questions I ask myself are, "Do I like research enough? Am I motivated enough?" I definitely enjoy doing research and the topics I can explore with it, as well as the flexibility of hours and such. Often during the semesters I find myself wanting to put more time into research and less on my equally important classes.

Part of me tells myself I should just find a job and settle, perhaps go for a masters. However, another ambitious part of me tells myself to go for a Ph.D. I'm quite conflicted about my path since my past semester was a wreck. My grades were unsatisfactory (1 C and 2 C+'s in major-related classes and a math class) due to my taking of 22 credits (includes 2 research credits -- an A) which tanked my GPA to a 3.1, which isn't horrible, but not ideal.

How do I decide whether I should start prepping for grad school? (Consider that there is an M.Eng program at my school that does not require a GRE, but does require a higher GPA ~3.5.)

2 Answers 2


A 3.1 undergraduate GPA is indeed low (even from a top school) among successful applicants to a PhD program. But there are over 130 R1 universities in the US, so it seems likely someone will take you.

I can't advise whether you should get an MS and work for a while before thinking more seriously about a PhD. What I can tell you is that very few people who start with that intention actually do it. It's possible to get a master's part-time while you're working but realistically, a PhD requires a full-time commitment and therein lies the problem: Once they begin working full-time, pulling in the typical $100K+ engineering salary, most people begin spending it. Worse, they get committed to continuing to spend it. They take on loans for cars and condos or houses and so on, and then they're handcuffed. They can't easily leave.

In my own 40+ years in industry, I've known lots of engineers with PhDs. But I can only recall one person who quit to go get one. And he had only been working for a year and hadn't yet started spending. Sure, there may have been others, but I can't remember any others.

So, if you are thinking about a PhD, the best time to do it is probably immediately after you finish your bachelor's. When I advise engineering students here at Michigan, I point out that I wish I had done that. I never got a PhD and I regret it. (And at 68, I think that ship has sailed.) YMMV.


There are many similar questions on this site already, and many of them have become closed due to the inability of users to make personal life decisions for each OP.

I will address the last question, “How do I decide whether I should start prepping for grad school?” because it seems to affect many undergraduates without a clear path. I will try to answer it as generically as possible.

One of the first steps in making this decision is to find out what exactly grad school prep consists of, and what level of schooling (Master’s or PhD) grad school means to you. Applications generally require transcripts, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and some version of a statement of purpose. Depending on your particular circumstances, you may be asked to provide other things (English proficiency, a CV, writing sample, research work, etc.). If you determine that you could provide these materials, you may consider applying to schools.

Preparation for grad school may also consist of outside study and genetic preparation. Whether you decide to go to industry or on to more schooling, any extra learning will not hurt you in the long run.

Deciding where to apply to grad school is another matter. If there is a particular program or professor that you feel would be a good research fit, you may consider contacting the department/professor to learn more.

Alternately, deciding where you would hope to be after undergrad is another way to make this decision. If it is in industry, consider where exactly you would hope to be. If a particular industry path requires higher schooling to advance, this may influence your decision as well.

Asking your advisor their opinion on the matter is probably the best course of action if you are genuinely unsure of which path you should take. They will be able to assess your progress in school thus far and may even have specific suggestions for people in your situation.

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