Is Grad School Right for You?

March 10, 2016

by Michelle Kruse

John Dewey, the late American philosopher, once said, "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." Each day, we become more aware of the world in which we live and gain valuable insight that carries us further. A collegiate education is one way we can rapidly increase our knowledge base, which ultimately translates into additional career opportunities and potential.

In the United States, close to 30 percent of our population currently holds a bachelor's degree. If you're reading this, then you're likely part of that group. Maybe you've just graduated, or you've been out of academia for a while putting your education to use in your desired field. For people in either situation, there typically comes a time when that little voice in your head begs the question, "Should I pursue a graduate degree?" For some, the answer is easy. However, for the majority, the thought of additional education (and the time and associated expenses) is something that results in head-spinning uncertainty.

The pursuit of a graduate degree is a huge step—I'm not going to lie and tell you there's an easy answer. That said, as you consider your options, regardless of your stage in life, there are methods to help guide you and ensure that your reasoning and rationale is sound. The following are tips that I've found helpful when mentoring and coaching those who are considering earning an advanced degree.

Understand Why

Before you make the decision to return to school, you need to ask yourself, "Why do I want a graduate degree?" Understanding your answer to this question is necessary, as it will become the foundation for your actions should you ultimately enter into a program. Is earning a graduate degree necessary to advance within your field? Are you considering a career change? Are you simply trying to stay marketable?

Answering the "why" is the most difficult of all questions. Sure, it sounds easy, and maybe your answer is simply because you want the challenge. If you cannot answer this question, forget moving forward through any sort of rubric—the result will not be based on the complete story. Once you've got your answer, it's typically easy to see if there is reason to move forward; put differently, if you can't answer this question, then you're likely not quite ready to take the next steps.

Comprehend Commitment

After you've identified potential graduate programs, understanding the timeline is important. Have you set a goal for anticipated graduation? Considering the application process and everything else that needs to be done beforehand, is that goal realistic? Are you planning to work while you're in school? If so, will you be able to juggle your current workload and the newfound duties that come with studying, writing papers and preparing for a thesis? Don't let anything you read fool you—yes, it can be done; however, it will be difficult.

Calculate Costs 

You already know that college is expensive. Well, take a gander at the rate most schools charge per credit hour for graduate programs. Just a smidge higher than the four years you spent earlier, right? Will you need to take out loans? Does your employer offer reimbursement? If your employer does reimburse, what will you owe them in return?

Typically, there are policies requiring you to stay employed for a set duration upon dispersing education funding. This is huge if your intent to return is to change careers. You don't need to get down to the exact change; however, you should know roughly what it will cost and how you'll pay for the degree. Additionally, once you've arrived at the number, you should ask whether or not the cost is reasonable considering your lifetime earnings. While most who hold degrees do earn more over time, not all degrees are equal—make sure you're doing your homework.

Earning a graduate degree is an impressive achievement at any stage in life. It takes passion, drive and a considerable amount of resources ranging from money to time. If you think you're ready to grab the reins of an advanced degree but still have feelings of doubt, try employing these tips. While I'd love for there to be an easy test to determine if graduate school is right for you, the truth is that you'll need to look inward for that answer. Whatever decision you make, if you answer honestly, your decision will be correct.

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