Making the decision to apply for and attend graduate school can be a little challenging. After all, there are several important factors to consider — like the time and financial investment, the professional ROI, and which degree will help you achieve your career goals — just to name a few.
Many of us may assume that it’s what we “should do” for the next step in our career or life, and maybe it is! But it’s important to pause, gather information, and consider your motivations in order to make the most informed decision. Here are six important questions to ask yourself when considering whether graduate school (at SHU, or elsewhere) is right for you!
1. Why am I considering this degree? Is it for career advancement or a career change?
This is the most important question to ask yourself in your decision-making process — why?
Everyone has different reasons for considering a graduate degree. To make the most prudent choice, you should spend some time exploring your motivations. For many, they either want to move ahead in their current job or make the switch to a new field, and a graduate degree offers a clear catalyst to initiate this change. Often a certain career is promising and engaging for a time, but challenges around the work-life balance, the type of work, or clear advancement prompt you to consider a change. This is a key moment to utilize a graduate degree, which can help you launch a new career trajectory by empowering you with new skills and a new focus.
2. If I pursue this advanced degree, can I expect a bump in salary or more responsibility in my career?
It’s no secret that you can expect to earn more with your graduate degree than simply holding a bachelor's. However, you might be surprised to learn just how much more you can make after advancing your education. Some sources estimate that you could see an average 38 percent increase in pay with your master’s degree. The largest increases are fields like science, technology, and business (70 percent increase in pay) and social sciences (55 percent). Other fields such as the arts and communication can expect increases of 19-25 percent. Depending on your discipline and graduate program, the degree could pay for itself in just a few years or could take a little longer to break even. These considerations (and variances in what you can expect in pay) may also help you to answer question 6, below.
Keep in mind that experience plays a key role. Just holding a graduate degree doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be the candidate they are looking for, but it does mean that you’ll have a better shot of earning competitive positions. Combine your schooling with a few years of experience and it could be the winning combination employers are looking for!
3. Do I have a clear idea of what I want to do after this degree?
To make the most of your degree, walk in with a plan.
Example: if you’re considering a master’s in teaching — can you see yourself as a teacher? Does that profession fit with who you are and your overarching career and life goals? Or for a program like a doctorate in philosophy, does a career of writing, research, and teaching resonate with you, or is it hard to imagine what you’ll be doing after your graduate program is done? Often, students will choose a graduate program because they love the subject and the study of the discipline, but it’s important to deeply consider whether the practical applications of that degree fit who you are and what you would like to do in your life.
4. Can I get my employer to support me in this degree?
If the degree you want to pursue is in your current field, consider discussing the possibility of returning for a degree with your current employer. Ask about the possibility of their financial support. If they can’t do that, ask if they will support a flexible schedule while you are back in school and how they would recognize your increased value after completing your degree.
Many HR departments are allocated budgets to help and are trained to discuss these scenarios with their employees. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask! If you’re happy with your line of work and looking to accelerate your advancement, a graduate degree could be your answer.
5. Am I looking for personal development or clarity about career and life goals?
Many of us have felt stuck — either in a career or coming out of college. We’re in need of new skills, a new path, or a new perspective. But is grad school the right solution for you?
There are times when continuing education opportunities, such as certificates and training programs, will offer you the boost you are looking for. You can also seek the guidance of a professional mentor (someone in the position you would like to have one day) who can help you determine your best next moves. However, there are also several circumstances where a grad program will be your best bet. For example, if you can identify specific skills and areas of expertise you lack (ex: you need business skills, but you’re from a humanities background) you should explore graduate degree options in that particular field.
6. Do I want to earn my degree part-time or full-time?
Many choose to work part-time during graduate school to balance the financial investment of a degree. This also offers them the chance to maintain their professional relationships and continue in the routines they have established. For many programs, this is an option, but in some disciplines, such as law or medical school, that isn’t a realistic possibility.
When making the decision between part and full-time, consider how long it will take you to earn your degree. It could make more sense to put work on hold for a year and return to school full-time, as opposed to spreading it out over 2-4 years of part-time study. Thinking through each scenario is a great place to start, but also be sure to consult specific program advisors. These professionals are there to help set you up for graduate school success.
Let SHU help you get started!
In your decision to return to school for a graduate degree, it’s helpful to clearly lay out and evaluate your motivations and expectations, and to explore how this decision will affect your current routine and future plans. It’s a big decision and with careful consideration, you can make sure it’s the right one for you.
If you have any questions about graduate school, specific degree programs, the application process, or anything else — we invite you to reach out to our admissions professionals. They are here to help you navigate this important, and potentially life-changing, decision. We hope to hear from you soon and best of luck!