Things to Consider Thinking about Going Back to School
By: Sara Gould
Will I have enough time? What about my paycheck? Where do I even start? Is it worth it? These may be just a few questions you’re pondering if you’ve been in the working world for a period of time and are considering furthering your education by going back to graduate school. Graduate school can help advance and improve your career tremendously, but also means a lifestyle change. Let’s talk about some of the major factors to consider if you are ready to start hitting the books again.
Choosing a Program of Study
Sometimes graduate school just makes sense.
Example: You’ve worked as a Senior Business Advisor from moving up the ranks, but now it’s time to earn your Master of Business Administration. This will help you obtain that next promotion during your performance evaluation and the credential will help with recognition as a leader in your office.
This is a great example of someone being pulled to a particular program. However, you may be feeling pushed out of your current situation and graduate school is your saving grace.
Example: You’ve been working in a field for 3+ years and realized that it just isn’t doing it for you anymore. You don’t aspire to hold any of the promotional roles and are finding a general disinterest for the industry/field as a whole.
Going to graduate school can help with that transition to changing careers and starting fresh (you may need to take a few prerequisite courses first). Engage in informational interviews with people in your industry who have been in the field for a period of time who can give you solid advice if you are unsure of what the next best step is – what types of graduate programs would be right for me to pursue? Also interview people who have careers you are interested in and ask them what would be best to study so you can go down that path as well.
Cost is a major factor when considering going back for more education. Some individuals choose to go to school full time, ultimately losing the paycheck they previously were earning, and others choose to stay at their job. Examine your finances thoroughly to see what makes the most sense for you. If you are currently working full time, some employers offer tuition reimbursement to help offset the costs, especially if you are studying a subject that relates directly to your current work.
Scholarships, fellowships, teaching assistantships, and graduate assistantships also all exist to help with the costs. Assistantships typically pay for your tuition and include a stipend depending on the cost of living. Consider the timing of when you would ideally like to go back to school. Could there be an option to set up an additional savings account with money allocated strictly to that goal? Going back to school doesn’t need to mean going into a significant amount of debt, but taking out student loans at the graduate level is always an option as well.
Many graduate programs understand individuals enrolled may have part- or full-time jobs, families, children, and other life obligations and are designed with this in mind. Unlike obtaining your undergraduate degree, graduate level courses are typically mainly offered mostly at night or on the weekends. Undoubtedly, your life will feel more jam-packed than ever before, potentially working full-time 8 – 5 p.m. and then learning in class from 5:30 – 8 p.m. Trying to find the time for homework, studying, projects, and managing your personal life can be challenging. As you get into the groove of your new schedule, you might find that you now need to work out in the mornings instead of evenings, or that you need to record your favorite Monday night TV show and catch up on it during the weekend as your reward for writing that paper for class. Friday date nights might be rescheduled to Sunday afternoon, and maybe you and your partner restructure the childcare schedule. Consider the flexibility of an online program if you travel for work frequently or have other obligations that do not logistically work out with an in-person classroom.
Ultimately, graduate school is an exciting time and privilege to expand your mind and grow in tremendous ways. You will be exposed to a greater professional and personal network, new knowledge and skills, and added value in the workplace. Even though it will shake up your current life situation, it can absolutely be worth it in the long run.
Check out our Preparing for Graduate School Guide for greater insight on some of these topics and getting you prepared for your next step.