Is graduate school right for you?

It seems that when it comes to college, the pressure is never off. From high school, you’re pressured to figure out what you’re going to do with the rest of your life and use college to get you there. Once you graduate, you’re forced to have an insightful, mature answer to the question, “What are you going to do after graduation?” And, when you’re out in the real world, you feel pressure about going back and continuing your education for a couple more years to move up in the ranks and in your paygrade. People on Facebook are doing it. Your coworkers are doing it. Your old friends are doing it. Your sister-in-law is doing it. So, you should too, right? Not necessarily.

At the time of writing this blog post, it was a couple weeks before my wedding, and my dad asked me, “When are you going for your master’s?”

Really? I am getting ready to make a lifelong commitment to spend the rest my life with another person and he thinks the one question I have an immediate answer to is when I am going back to get my master’s degree. Being a college student seems like another life to me. Still, the pressure of it all trails right behind me.

Don’t get me wrong, since I’ve graduated college, I have seriously pondered getting my master’s. I absolutely love learning. I love being in a classroom setting. I take the value of education very seriously. I completely believe in the whole ‘knowledge is power’ notion. Without my undergraduate degree and my entire college journey, I would not be where I am today. But, the decision to go back to school is one that shouldn’t be taken lightly, at least for most people. Some people just feel that it’s the right step for them and that it’s all part of their plan. Some people’s wallets are a bit heavier than others. Some people are trying to be doctors or lawyers and really don’t have a choice. Right now, I am on a path that doesn’t include graduate school, and I am content with that because I know I can change my mind any time I want. There are things I want to do with my time, money and energy that don’t involve writing a thesis, dealing with professors and reading hundreds of textbook pages.

The point of this post (prompted by my dad’s question) is to take the pressure off of you and help you look at the big picture.  Here are some things I have considered to make the decision easier for me, which hopefully can help you, too.

Are you already drowning in student loans?

Me: Raises hand and sulks in chair.

This is probably the biggest factor that is holding me back from going to graduate school. I am still paying my student loans from my undergraduate degree with a monthly payment that’s just as much as our mortgage (no word of a lie, and that’s including taxes, insurance and condo fees!). While I know obtaining a graduate degree is expensive, I never looked into how much it would actually cost. Now, I would never be able to quit work to go to school, so I’d have to take an online master’s program, but just as a test, I wanted to see how much it would cost in a traditional classroom setting. I chose Emerson College because that’s where I got my bachelor’s degree in journalism. For this experiment, I chose to enroll in the graduate program for Strategic Communication for Marketing.

Any idea how much this would cost me? Oh, only $36,036. And I’d also have quit my job to commute to Boston and join the 12-month accelerated program. (This doesn’t just require money, it takes time and life adjustments, too.)

I don’t have $36,000 to just whip out and hand over so you know I’d have to take out more loans.

If you’re in the same boat as me with this one, are you really interested in taking out more student loans to add to your already high loan balance? If you don’t currently have student loans, are you willing to take them out, or fork over a bunch of money?

If you have no problems here, then money may not be your barrier.

How much will it cost you in time?

Money is one thing, but how much time are you willing to give up to pursue your next degree?

If you’re fresh out of your undergrad program, you may have more leniency because you haven’t started a full-time job yet and your general life responsibilities may not be that big. You’re also in “student mode”. But, if you’ve already had your working pants on for a little while, can you afford the time commitment of going back to school? Would you have to leave your job or transition to part-time? It may seem exciting at first, but will you be able to keep up with the time commitment as the weeks move along or will you be completely over it by the second semester and wishing you were back at your work desk?

If you have the time to spare, great. Keep reading.

Are you dead set on what you want to do with your career?

Are you absolutely positive about what you want to do with your career? Do you feel so completely sure that you are meant to work in the industry or field you are currently in? If so, that’s actually really amazing. If you have a little bit of hesitation, it might be a good idea to hold off on the whole graduate school thing. It would really be a downer to spend tons of money on something that’s supposed to help you advance in your career to only realize where you’re headed is not where you really want to go.

Do you really need a master’s degree?

If you’re striving to be a doctor or a lawyer, then a professional degree is a must, but if not, have you considered whether or not a master’s degree is even necessary for you? The necessity might change with time, and that’s ok. Because with the experience, knowledge, and wisdom that comes with just living life, you may find that your needs change, and it’s perfectly OK to change your mind.

Now, let’s get deep.

What are your reasons for going back?

Is it the pressure from other people, society, job postings or yourself? Is it something else to add to your resume? Will it truly help you succeed at your current job or in your current career field? Has your dad been asking you when you plan on getting your master’s since the day you graduated and two weeks before your wedding? Does it just feel like it’s the “right” thing to do? Do have the bug for being a student? Are you completely uninterested in joining the workforce right now? Is it on your bucket list? Does your life depend on it?

Really think about the reasons why you are considering getting your graduate degree. Whatever your answers are to these questions, no judgement here. And don’t judge yourself either. It’s so important to understand the motives behind your choice, and if it’s worth the things you have to sacrifice to succeed. Your reason may be just because you want to, and that’s totally fine, too.

This post wasn’t meant to put down getting a master’s degree or to shine a light on the negatives of going to graduate school. I know there are tons of amazing reasons to go after that degree. Trust me, if I had the time, the money, was OK with spending my evenings after work doing homework, and didn’t want to accomplish a few things other than getting a new degree at this time, I would do it in a heartbeat. These questions are meant to guide you, not force you down a certain path. Hope they help.

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