The decision to go to graduate school can be a difficult one. It’s a big commitment of time and money. In some fields, a graduate degree is not necessarily beneficial. However, in others, it’s necessary to move to the next step. Below are several factors to consider as you decide whether to seek your master’s or your doctorate.
Do You Need It?
This question is not as straightforward as it may seem. After all, if it were, the decision about whether to go back to school would be an easy one. Even in the areas where the answer is clearly yes in terms of its necessity for pursuing a certain career, such as going into academia, becoming a psychologist, or going to law school, you need to step back and ask yourself whether you really want to pursue that path.
Don’t paralyze yourself with indecision but think carefully about what the job field you’re considering involves and whether it’s right for you. For other areas, make sure that the degree is necessary. For example, some business sectors require an MBA for advancement, but in others, you’d be better off getting those extra years of experience in the business world instead.
How Are Your Finances?
Just as there are plenty of ways to pay for your undergraduate degree, there are ways to pay for your graduate degree as well, but you should have a plan in place so that you know exactly what it will cost you and how you will cover those costs. As an undergraduate, you may have had to use your parents’ financial information to apply for federal aid. That’s probably no longer necessary now.
In addition, you may have built up a credit score that can mean good rates on graduate student loans from a private lender. If you are pursuing an academic track in the hopes of eventually becoming a professor, the usual way of paying for school is to look for a program that covers your tuition and offers a stipend in exchange for an assistantship or fellowship. However, even if this is your situation, you may have additional expenses that a loan could help cover. You should also look into scholarships and grants.
Is the Time Right?
Another thing to consider is the timing. It might be the right plan but not right now. For example, MBA programs generally only take people who have been working for a while. If you have just finished your undergraduate degree, you should spend some time in the business world before you apply. There are also situations where you might have a stronger application to go to a more prestigious school and ultimately increase career prospects, if you get some more experience first.
For example, if you want to get a master’s degree in international development, joining the Peace Corps or working overseas in some other capacity might be helpful. Yet another thing to take into account is what’s going on in your personal life. Are you in a place where you can set study goals that work for you and realistically meet them? There’s never a perfect time to go back to school, but if you have several young children or your family is going through something especially difficult, it might be better to postpone for a year or two.
Are You Ready?
Perhaps the most important consideration is whether you are ready for this step. All of the above factors may be in place, but if you don’t feel ready to embark on this endeavor yet, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where your head is just not in the right place to focus on school. If you find that you don’t feel ready, trying digging deep and asking yourself why. Is it that you no longer want to follow the plan that you had for yourself, or do you just need a little more time?
If you just finished your undergraduate degree, you might need a year or two off school before going back. If you’ve already been accepted to a good program, you can always find out if it is possible to defer for a year. While the pressure to get started as soon as possible can be intense, over the course of a career, waiting a year is not going to derail you, especially if it prevents burnout.