Graduating from college is a source of pride for so many. It symbolizes achievement, growth, and potential. For some, a bachelor’s degree winds up becoming a stepping stone to further education because they want or need a more specific knowledge field. Graduate school is an important step to entering certain careers, but it is not always necessary.
There are many pros and cons to continuing higher education, and it can be difficult to decide whether or not to fill out another college application. People will always be there to give their input, but the person who will have to pay those loans and give over that time is you. Rather than evaluating the general benefits and problems of getting a graduate degree, it can be more beneficial to ask the right questions to evaluate whether this decision is right for you.
Here are eight questions to ask yourself to see if graduate school is the right choice:
Do I need a graduate degree to pursue my chosen career?
Want to be a doctor or a lawyer? See yourself contributing to advances in science or literary theory? Full stop. The answer is yes; you will need to go to graduate school. Law school, medical school, or earning a Master’s of Teaching all require special entrance exams to get into a program that immerses the student in specialized learning.
Most of the people who want to pursue this kind of work had that figured out before they graduated college and chose a bachelor’s degree that supported that goal. This isn’t always true, and going back to take tests and pursue something like law school after graduating does not necessarily prevent anyone from getting it. Studying hard and having a passion for these fields can make the extra time in school rewarding.
Can I get a certificate that will get me in the door faster?
Many universities now offer continuing education options. These courses and certificate programs can be completed in a few weeks or a couple of semesters that supplement a given college degree to enhance a resume for a given career. Sometimes, getting a certificate can be a cheaper and faster way to start a career, leaving graduate school as a viable option after some experience and earned income.
Certificates in art, museum studies, web design, and coding languages can be a way to stand out in the job market without signing on for two to four more years of school and thousands of dollars of debt. Plus, many great schools offer these programs online and incorporate practical experience. A certificate may be the extra edge you need instead of graduate school.
Am I doing it because I can’t find a job?
It can be very difficult to find a job due to a variety of factors, including the economy, location, or low demand. For some who struggle to find their “dream job”, graduate school can be a good way to help clarify their specialty or enhance their resume to help them stand out.
If the graduate degree is relevant to your skills and interest, using it as a time to learn more can be helpful. However, it is an expensive option, and there are fewer scholarship and grant opportunities than for bachelor’s degrees (learn more about student loans here). Consider finding any kind of a job to have that income before giving up on the job hunt and going back to school. It takes time.
Am I using graduate school as a way to put off entering the adult world?
Leaving the structured and comfortable world of university can be scary, stressful, and overwhelming. Hopping straight back into school can seem like an easy way to put off making tough decisions like moving out and getting married. After several rejections during the job search, it can feel affirming to get an acceptance letter from a university.
However, if it doesn’t fit with your long-term goals or fear is the only motivation for going to graduate school, put down that application. Sometimes the most rewarding things are the ones that require us to overcome fear and anxiety, and some of our worst decisions are driven by them. Take a step back and come up with an action plan to start taking those big steps, and if graduate school makes sense, later, pursue it then.
Can I work and take a few classes at a time?
Some fields advance quickly, and the information learned five years ago can become obsolete. Technology is one such field. It can be tempting to keep pursuing degrees to stay informed, relevant, and useful in a position.
A lot of schools have the option for someone to enroll in classes part-time, one at a time, or even audit a few as a non-student. If keeping up with coursework from time to time makes sense, it will be more costly and less stressful than re-enrolling full time to pursue a degree you may not need to stay ahead of a changing market or field of study.
Keeping yourself informed can be smart and help combat imposter syndrome.
What is the Return on Investment for the degree I’m thinking of pursuing?
Education is always an investment. You put a certain amount of money into a degree on the belief the career you have after graduation will pay back the loans you took out and then make more money leading to a higher quality of life. Some degrees have high ROIs or return on investment. Whether they are low-cost, the career after is high paying, or both, they were worth the investment.
Other degrees are very expensive and do not have high-paying career fields. After taking on the debt for a bachelor’s, consider whether or not a graduate program will pay for itself over time. Some people take on over $100,000 in debt and then have to spend the next 30 years paying it back. That isn’t a great return on investment.
Is someone else pushing me to pursue this degree?
When looking toward the future, most people have dreams of their own they want to accomplish but feel pushed by outside forces to pursue something else. Parents, friends, and partners can exercise undue influence in decisions, including about whether or not graduate school is the way to go.
Pursuing a degree and a career path just because someone else wants you to is not a wise move. You will most likely have to pay for those loans, and you will have to work in that field. Don’t dismiss their advice out of hand; it could be a wise decision. Make sure it is what you want or need before making the commitment.
Where do I want to be in 10 years? Does graduate school help, hurt, or make no discernible difference in achieving long-term goals?
Ultimately, going to graduate school, or not, will have an impact on the direction of your life. While no one can predict the future, thinking about where you want to be in the long term can be helpful in making big decisions. If you want to be debt-free in a career in sales or entrepreneurship, graduate school may not be the right choice for you. Take time and write down an imagined timeline, and see if graduate school fits.
Graduate school can provide amazing opportunities for personal growth, higher income and sometimes lets you relocate somewhere exciting and new. It can also come with student debt and a few years out of full-time work. Examining yourself, your goals, and your current financial and personal circumstances in the present will help you make the right choice.
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