Recently, while traveling for business, I happened to sit next to a young professional on my flight, and we fell into a discussion. The crux of it was this: both he and his wife wanted to go back to school to get their graduate degrees but they couldn’t go at the same time. They were trying to decide which one of them should go first.
While I didn’t presume to know what was best for he and his wife, I asked him some questions that, later, he said were quite helpful and put his mind at ease about the direction he now felt was the right one. If you’re considering graduate school, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:
- What do you want to do once you get the degree? If you don’t really know, then how do you know what degree to obtain? Graduate degrees are generally more specialized than undergraduate and if the degree you obtain doesn’t end up matching the path you want to go down, it may not actually help you much. If you don’t know what you’d like to do next, do your research. Don’t sit around waiting for the answer to come to you. Talk to people, research careers and career paths. A great resource is: O*NET (onetonline.org.)
- If you do know what you’d like to do down the road, do the people who do what you’d like to do have graduate degrees? What degrees? Do the majority have them or is it uncommon? If the majority have them, it may be the price of admission you’ll have to pay to even get your foot in the door. If only a few have them, do you really need one? It very well could provide you a competitive advantage to have one, but it is not a guarantee of employment, so you need to weigh this carefully. If you don’t know the answer to this question, use LinkedIn, and talk to people. Find out.
- Are you ready to start job searching and are you open to relocation? Graduate degrees are quite often successful in providing a springboard for one’s career, but the window of opportunity is generally most open in the year before and the months after graduation. You need to be ready to strike while the iron’s hot. Students who don’t look to make a move until two, three or even five or more years after they obtain a graduate, often have a difficult time. Why? Because they are competing with others who took more initiative and showed more commitment in getting into that field while they were in school. Who would you choose if you were a recruiter?
To be sure, graduate degrees can be rewarding in many ways, from the joy of studying a field you have a particular interest in, to building new relationships with others who share your interests and may be able to help you professionally, to the advantages it may provide in your career. Just make sure that you are going back to school at the right time for the right reasons.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will get you there.” ~Lewis Carroll (from Alice in Wonderland)