Should I Go to Grad School?
GRADUATE STUDIES | QUICK READ
If only there were a one-size-fits-all answer to the question: Should I go to grad school? But if you are considering graduate school, you’re experienced enough to know that major life decisions are never so simple.
Graduate school represents a commitment that usually lasts at least two years and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Is it worth the time? Is it worth the money? Those are questions only you can answer.
Here are three factors to consider as you sort through your priorities:
1. Will a Graduate Degree Help me Advance in my Career?
For some professions—doctors, lawyers, college professors—the answer is obvious. Continuing on with school is mandatory. In other careers, entry-level positions may not require a master’s, but as you move up, you will need to earn additional credentials.
Many jobs in social work, health care, counseling and even K-12 education have a de facto mandate for a master’s degree. In business, an MBA can give you a leg up as you climb the corporate ladder.
To begin, talk with people already working in your profession—those who are just starting out as well as those in the middle of their careers or nearing retirement. Ask them their opinion on the benefits of a graduate degree. Think about where you want to be in five, 10 or even 20 years. Will a graduate degree help you get there? Is your field evolving so that what may not be necessary today will be seen as an asset down the road?
2. Can I Afford to Go to Graduate School?
No surprise here—the math gets complicated when you start to think about how to pay for grad school. First, you have to consider tuition. Then, there’s the matter of earning less while in school if you cut back on work hours (or don’t work at all). Finally, there’s the prospect of adding to undergraduate debt you might already have.
But there’s also likely to be an increase in salary when you graduate, which compounds over time. You will likely have an edge over other job applicants who only have a bachelor’s degree. And your new degree could give you the flexibility to transition to a different, higher-paying position or field.
Still more variables come into play: Scholarships for graduate school can be hard to come by, but the majority of colleges offer assistantships, fellowships or research positions that can reduce or even eliminate tuition. Many employers will pay a portion—or even all—of their employees’ tuition. And there are low-interest loans available.
Ultimately, you have to decide how much you are comfortable with paying out of pocket or taking on as debt, based on what the return on investment could be in the future.
3. Do I Need to Go to Grad School?
One thing is certain: Don’t enroll in graduate school just because you can’t come up with anything else to do.
If you have a concrete goal in mind, though, the time and effort required could be well worth it. Being in grad school means you’ll be learning from the best. You get to work with equipment and tools that you might not otherwise have access to. You can dive deep into topics that really interest you—and do it under the guidance of experts in that field. You’ll make connections that can last long after you graduate.
But graduate programs are intense. They require discipline and dedication. Time management. Sacrifice.
A support network of family, friends and classmates will help a lot. So will keeping your eye on your end goal—whether that’s a promotion, a new career, a bigger paycheck or a personal or educational milestone you want to reach.
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