For many, going to graduate school may seem like a no-brainer. It can help qualify you for a wider variety of jobs. It can help you increase your salary. It can even help you make that career change you've been dreaming about.
But it's not a sure thing. Depending on your field, it may mean a significant increase in your earnings potential, but for some field, it may not.
Or maybe you're considering graduate school because you are having a difficult time finding a job. This isn't always the most financially sound choice. Instead, make plans to deal with the transition between college and finding a job. Plus, keep in mind that once you graduate from grad school, you will be in the same position looking for a job as you are now. If you do decide grad school is the right choice for you, it is also important to carefully choose the school you go to when headed back to school.
Before you decide to enroll in grad school, as yourself these questions to make sure it's the best financial move.
How Will the Degree Improve My Current Job Situation?
If you have spent a few years working in your job field, and you know you need a higher degree to qualify for promotions or to move into a management position, then you should definitely consider going back to school.
If you are having a difficult time finding a job in the field you want to work in, a new degree may not help you find work. It could even prevent you from finding a new job, as you may price yourself out of certain jobs or risk being overqualified.
Instead, you should consider widening your job search, looking in related fields, and in a larger geographic location before going back to school. It does take time to find a job, and it can be difficult to keep looking even after your friends have found a job.
Before enrolling in grad school, you should have a career planning session to make sure this will help you achieve your long-term career goals. If you are ready to move on to a new job, you should make sure that desperation to leave your current job is not driving your decision to go back to school.
Will the Degree Improve My Pay?
For many degrees, such as an MBA, a higher salary is likely once you graduate.
You will also likely increase your earning potential if you get a master’s degree in education, but not to the same degree as you would with an MBA.
If you are getting the degree primarily to improve your pay situation, it's also wise to consider how much it is going to cost you to get your degree. It does not make sense to go $100,000 in debt for a degree if you are only going to increase your earning potential by about $10,000 a year.
This fact alone does not mean that you should forgo graduate school. But you need to ensure that a graduate degree makes financial sense first.
Do I Want to Continue in This Career Field?
Many people get their undergraduate degree in a specific field, then graduate to learn that they hate working in all aspects of that field, and decide to change careers.
This is also true of grad school. Before you get another degree in your field, you should consider taking a few years to work before going further into debt for more degrees. After all, what if you decide you hate your field? Summer internships are a great way to do this while you are in school.
If you are considering getting a grad degree so that you can switch fields, then you should try to gain some experience in the field you want to transition into before enrolling.
How Will Going Back to Graduate School Affect My Lifestyle?
If you are planning on returning full-time to school and live entirely on student loans or scholarship money, are you in a position to cut back and adjust your budget?
If you are planning on attending night classes or a low-residency degree program, have you asked yourself how it will affect your current relationships? If you are married, your spouse needs to support the decision and the sacrifices you will be making. If you have children, you'll need to have childcare, and account for that cost in your new budget.
It's also wise to avoid going into debt as much as possible. It is important to consider how going back to school will affect other areas of your life. For example, if you have to move for your program, how will you pay for the move? Can you afford to live in that geographic area? And will you be able to find a part-time job there?
Are There Alternate Ways to Pay for Graduate School?
Many employers are willing to pay for all or a portion of your classes or an advanced degree. Check with your human resources department to see if your company offers a tuition reimbursement program.
Although you may take a little longer to get your degree if you go part-time in the evenings or over the weekend, you can maintain your current lifestyle, and get the degree you want or need. If you decide to leave your job and pursue school full-time, be sure to apply for all the grants and scholarships you can. Also, before you even apply to grad school, you should determine how much you are willing to borrow to pay for school.