I consider myself to be a student of life, however there comes a time when you realize that maybe going back to school may be the best thing for your career. A great education is priceless but for our purposes, let’s discuss a few things you should look at when deciding to take the plunge and enter graduate school.
This one is obvious. How much will it cost you to return to school for the total time in school? Will you take out loans or have you saved to cover all costs associated with returning to graduate school. Make sure that you understand the real cost of graduate school. Real costs: loans + interest, living expenses, books, tuition etc. Don’t just look at the tuition and call it a day.
Relevance + Market Demand
When researching what to major in while in graduate school, look at the current market relevance as that will determine how much your chosen field is in demand. For example, here in the DC Metro area, degrees in Nonprofit Management, Information Technology, Project Management and Psychology/Social Work are all in high demand. Check the local job search engines and you’ll see plenty of positions in those fields in this area. This is because the federal government lives here so there are more than a few contracting corporations to fuel the job market for the previously mentioned fields. Based on where you live or plan on living after graduation, ask yourself, – will that local economy support your chosen field?
In some cases, it is worth considering a more specialized degree if you go back to school. For example, if you find yourself moving up in the business world, going back to school to pick up a degree that will help get you into management makes a lot of sense. The Master of Science Degree in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution is one such program, as it gives you the skills to implement a number of different resolution styles to conflicts within an organization. Many businesses actively look for those who can manage conflict in the workforce when promoting employees, making this a very valuable degree.
Starting Salary –> Mid Career Salary
What is the median and starting salary for your chosen field? The best way to figure this out isn’t to Google it but talk to people currently in your field to get a sense of what the going rates are right now. Sites like Glass Door and The Vault tend to give median averages which don’t tell the whole story. Do your research by talking to people about current salaries right out of graduate school and mid career salaries.
Experience of Past and Current Students
This is really important! When you talk to current and past students, discuss how they were treated by the administration and whether or not they felt that the quality of the education is commensurate with what they paid for. I’ve always had good reviews from students so I am lucky in that regard. However, when I checked online reviews of the schools I researched I would often get a different picture, especially for some of the for profit schools.
Years To Achieve Return On Investment
Crunch the numbers based on your financial situation and then decide whether or not it makes financial sense. Options like an accelerated degree program lets you earn the education you want without so much of the major time investment, saving you money in the long run.
Consider the following:
- Lost years of productivity while in graduate school working part time or not at all
- Loan amounts vs starting salary
- Total amount paid back for loans vs starting salary and length of time expected in career
Is it worth it? Crunch the numbers based on your financial situation and then decide whether or not it makes financial sense.
This has been a gold mine of connections for me in that I was able to connect with so many people in my field to discuss their experiences in school, current career options around salaries and job prospects. You’d be surprised how much people are willing to tell you as someone coming behind them in the field. How did I get in touch with them? I simply performed a search and most wrote back. I even met with one woman for coffee as she told me about her experience in her PhD program. She warned me against going back to school for a degree I do not need and it was the best advice, ever.
I spent about 2 years since the completion of my Masters degree researching doctoral programs trying to decide if it was in my best interest to do so. As some of you may know, I am a licensed psychotherapist by trade and within my field over the last 5-10 years there’s been some significant encroachment of mid level professionals like myself upon the domain of doctoral level professionals. In my state, we are can now perform assessments and other tasks that were once only the domain of doctorate level therapists. So it was important for me to understand whether or not a doctorate was actually crucial to the advancement of my career.
Teaching is something I was told that I would not be able to do without a doctorate, yet if I wanted to I could go back to my graduate program and teach there as an adjunct. And, while I was accepted to a few programs, shelling out $80-$120k in extra student loans for a $5k annual difference in pay wasn’t worth it for me. Insurance companies pay out $5-$10 more to doctoral level therapists and that sealed it. I also had to consider the years I would spend in school (4-7) and the lost opportunity for full time income during that time as well as the harsh reality that the increase in salary and total amount paid in student loans isn’t worth the “prestige” of having a doctorate.
This is a conversation I have at least once a month with the interns at my job as well as potential new hires fresh out of doctoral school. They often regret the decision to go back to school as they were fed stories of prestige and promises of having dominion over mid-level professionals like myself. Taking the time out to research this was one of the best things I did and I don’t regret it one bit. Currently, I am now researching a career in cyber terrorism as it is something I actually moved to this area for right out of graduate school. We’ll see where it takes me as I want to make sure the money I put out will be worth it.