Maybe you’re looking to change careers or you just want to move up in your industry. Whatever the reason, graduate school has come up as a possible next step, and you have to weigh your options. You don’t want to spend the time and money on graduate school if you don’t really need it — or if you aren’t a person who loves being in school.
I have a lot of friends facing this question now, and I once faced it, too. Marcy Twete talked about non-degree programs, and how those can help you. But if you think graduate school might be a good option, here’s a few things I considered as I debated if graduate school was the right choice:
- Are you changing careers? If so, do you know what your next step is? When I left broadcast news, I knew I wanted to work with storytelling in some form, but I was lost as to whether that would be in a print newsroom or a magazine or a production company. I sent out resumes to companies in all of those industries, instead of narrowing my focus. I realized I needed some time to figure out where my skills would best fit. By returning to school, I was able to take the time to learn my options — and try them out in classes and internships.
- Do most jobs you want require the degree? Consider what your ideal position would be. Does it require a degree? Then get started working on that dream now! In the meantime, you could look for entry-level jobs in the field to gain some experience. On the other hand, jobs in broadcast news, for example, rarely require a master’s degree. The best thing is to simply start working in the field and gain experience on the job. If you can find an entry-level job that will throw you right in, and you’re willing to put in the work for lower pay, then consider it your own form of graduate school!
- Do you currently have the skills, but simply need to expand upon them? If you already have the basic skills, then taking a non-degree class or two might be the best way to go. You can also create opportunities for yourself by volunteering to help nonprofit groups, or by interning.
As you’re considering all of this, you might be experiencing some self-doubt, or you might be making excuses. We all do this. So if these are popping up in your head, beware:
- Grad school is expensive and I don’t want to spend the money. Yes, grad school is an expense and you may not be able to afford it off of your current salary. But you should be doing your homework. How much do programs cost at various universities? What loan and scholarship options are out there? Can your job sponsor you? Don’t keep putting off grad school without researching first.
- I can’t find a job so I’ll just go back to school. Yes, if it’s hard to find a job, this could be tempting. More education is always a good idea, but if you don’t really want to be there, you might not last. Grad school is tough and a lot of work. Don’t invest unless you have the energy to follow through.
These are just some questions I considered, but each case will be different. Listen to yourself and go with the option that excites and might even scare you. Sometimes we have to give ourselves a push.