Now more than ever, members of the workforce who already have a bachelor’s degree are reaping the financial rewards of returning to school for postgraduate studies. And while you might not currently be enrolled in school, that doesn’t mean the idea of going back to get another degree hasn’t been on your mind. Whether you’re ready to stop working a handful of side-hustles or don’t see yourself getting a raise without having a postgraduate degree, there are so many circumstances that can make another year or two in academia seem like a viable option. But going back to school is a major commitment, both in terms of finance and time, so it’s important to make sure that you’re going back for the right reasons, and that the expectations you set for yourself are realistic. Here’s a quick list of the questions you should be asking as you start thinking about returning to school, and tips for finding answers.
Do I have enough time?
Take a second to consider the obligations–be it work, family or a creative passion–that you don’t see yourself giving up while you’re in school. Assuming you keep those pursuits alive, how many hours could you realistically spend between the classroom, talking with professors and completing homework? Depending on how much time you have to spare, you might want to narrow your options to programs which would be less demanding on your schedule: both part-time Master’s programs and online certificate programs are becoming more popular and can go a long way towards advancing your career. If you’re unsure whether you have the time, you might want to test the waters before fully committing to a program by doing a semester in which you only take one class.
Will it help my career?
In certain cases, getting a postgraduate degree isn’t going to do much for your career. So before going back to school for the sake of career advancement, make sure you take a close look at what type of salary a postgraduate degree usually merits in your field. Websites like PayScale and Salary.com have great tools for figuring out how much more you’d earn per year with that degree, and then calculating whether school is a worthy investment–chances are good that $40,000 in tuition costs, for instance, are worth taking on if the average annual salary for people with MBAs is $25,000 higher than the industry standard. Make sure you talk to people who work in your field–both those who have gone back to school and those who haven’t–and ask whether they think a postgraduate degree is a good move at this stage of your career. Bring up a specific program you have in mind, and ask about the industry connections and name recognition that the program has to offer.
Can I afford it?
If you don’t have the savings to pay for school while you’re enrolled, taking out student loans might be a hard pill to swallow. Thankfully, though, about 52% of employers in the United States do offer to help employees pay for graduate courses. Talk to your manager and ask if there’s a professional development program that helps employees pay for graduate courses–even if there isn’t, it might be worth asking if they’d be interested in putting money towards your education.
As any good student knows, it’s impossible to do too much research when trying to make an informed decision. Reach out to as many sources as possible–websites, colleagues and mentors–and ask their honest opinion on whether or not going back to school is a good idea. When all is said and done, you should have all the insight you need to go forward with confidence.