Wooden chair against a school desk for the letter

Going back to graduate school isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. Graduate school is a long, grueling, expensive process that, when attempted without a solid plan, can leave you with a string of problems. In some fields such as law or medicine, graduate school is required, but in other fields you have a decision to make.

Do not pursue a graduate degree without doing your research. Graduate school is NOT for everyone, and it’s completely different from your carefree undergraduate years. Here are a few things to consider before you start the application process.

Am I going for the right reasons?

Why do you want a graduate degree?  Intellectual curiosity? To advance your career? To start a new career? Going back to graduate school because you don’t know what else to do, is not a good reason to go.

It’s tempting to go after degrees that current research says employers want, but that may change. You should be going to graduate school despite what other people say, because if you are in graduate school, you should be studying something that you love. If you want to get an MBA just because you think it will make you more money, but not because you’re excited about the field, not only will you be unhappy, potential employers will notice. People who love what they do and are good at it, with or without advanced degrees, find the best jobs.

Are you fine right now, without this degree?

Do I need a graduate degree?

If you have a specific career goal that you know requires a higher degree, then clearly graduate school is something you will have to complete in your lifetime. But many of us do not have our entire career paths planned. Sometimes we think that a graduate degree may help us move up the corporate ladder. This could be true, but you should probably wait until you have a goal in mind so that you can find a program geared specifically towards training you in those skills. There are also certificate programs that are not as consuming in terms of time or finances, and you may find that this is all you need to move another step up the ladder.

How will I pay for it? 

Thoroughly research tuition costs for every school you apply to. You will also need to factor in additional fees not quoted in a school’s base tuition.

Will you be able to work while attending graduate school? Certain schools and programs are friendlier to working students than others. Similarly, some degrees are better equipped to guarantee a job or a salary increase upon graduation. While nothing is certain, be careful about incurring a lot of debt without the promise of steady income upon graduation.

Some companies will help foot the bill for their employees to go to college, if they see it as an investment. If you work in marketing for example, going back to business school can be sold to your employer as an investment opportunity- you will learn more about the profession, and help make them more money in return. Lots of companies will also pay in part or in full for professional certificate programs, which can be a good alternative to an MBA.

Am I ready for a lifestyle change? 

Going back to graduate school, especially after you’ve been in the workforce for a while, will put you behind your peers. For a while, you won’t be able to afford the same things your friends can, and you’ll be stuck in the library on the weekends, especially if you need to hold a full-time job at the same time. This can be jarring if you’ve been used to corporate life, and it’s something you should consider.

Also, while your significant other should be a source of support, relationships can also suffer from extra stress and lots of time apart.

 

Weigh your decision carefully. You can always change your mind after you apply to schools. The amount of money you’ll rack up in application fees is much less of a burden than the amount of debt you’ll accrue for a program you weren’t really sure about in the first place.

Everything has its downsides, but there are definitely a lot of good things about pursuing a graduate degree. Having a graduate degree will show employers that you’re serious about your field, and it will increase your knowledge and skills. Additionally, a bachelor’s degree is becoming the new high school diploma, so you may find more and more that a second degree is helpful for career advancement.