Deciding whether to go back to school for a master’s degree is a major decision. It often involves postponing career plans, putting your life on hold, forfeiting a stable income during your return to school and taking the risk of searching for new employment after you graduate. When a decision to return to school is imminent, it is important to think about a variety of factors.
Will a Graduate Degree Help You Advance Your Career?
Consider whether or not a graduate degree will help advance your career and if you are doing it for the right reasons. While certain careers definitely require an advanced degree — doctors, lawyers and the like — there are plenty of jobs for which an undergraduate degree can suffice and where, provided you put in the time and effort, you can climb the corporate ladder. Graduate school is not necessarily the place to go if you are escaping a job in which you are unhappy. In that case, it may be prudent to explore other options, such as additional training or another position within the same company.
Is a Master’s Degree a Good Investment of Time and Money?
It is important to remember that graduate school is an investment of time and money. Not only is it likely that you will be giving up a salary to return to school, you’ll most likely have to foot the bill for attending. Annual tuition for master’s degree programs in the United States range from $5,000 to more than $38,000 a year. Although expensive, you have to weigh the cost of graduate school against the potential for a higher salary following completion. According to a 2008 U.S. Census Bureau survey of people 25 years old and over, the median income for a bachelor’s degree holder was $55,656, while master’s degree holders average $67,337, a 21% increase. As more and more high school graduates attend college, the bachelor’s degree is becoming a common commodity. Those with graduate degrees are significantly more marketable than those with only lesser degrees.
Do You Have Enough Experience to Go for a Master’s Degree?
Another crucial factor to consider is whether or not your professional experience has been substantive enough to return to school. Although it might be easier to return to school immediately after receiving a bachelor’s degree with a “student” mentality, working for at least a few years is recommended. During this time, you can hone in on what type of work you enjoy and better know your career goals. Most graduate school programs require some work experience. Working for a few years will also give you time to save money and allow time for maturity that will greatly change the graduate school experience.
How Do You Choose the Right Graduate Program?
Once you’ve made the decision to return, it isn’t as simple as matriculating at the first school that accepts you. The decision of where to go to school is huge. In fact, some experts say that your choice of a graduate school is much more important than your choice of an undergraduate school. Certain schools are better-known for specific graduate programs; for instance, Harvard and Northwestern are known for their business programs, while Vanderbilt University is known for education, and engineers might be particularly interested in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Do your research and ensure you attend a program that will give you maximum exposure to your chosen field in terms of faculty, classes and networking opportunities. You may even want to consider some of the best online colleges, as they can provide serious discounts. Also consider searching the best GI Bill schools to see if you can use your GI Bill benefits.
Whether returning to school is the right choice depends largely on your specific circumstances and career goals. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, so spend the time to weigh the pros and cons.