Graduate School: It's a Career Decision

Are you thinking about returning to school to pursue a graduate degree? As an adult learner with responsibilities, this decision can be particularly complicated. There is a lot to balance with school, work, family and other commitments. Making a decision to earn a graduate degree requires thought, research ... time. For good or bad, this decision will have lasting effects on your career.

Before you begin the graduate school application process, you should be able to answer some basic questions. Knowing the answers can aid the decision-making process by honing in on your career pursuits.

In what ways will graduate school improve my career outlook? Is it necessary to advance my career?

Graduate school provides more advanced education in a specific subject matter or academic discipline. The knowledge gained in grad school should aid your professional pursuits in your current career or assist your move into a new one. Perhaps you currently work in a non-profit and want to obtain a MSW (Master of Social Work). This degree can open up new doors for employment and leadership within an organization. Even in that case, the pay increase may not be significant.

If you are currently employed in sales, where most employers do not require a bachelor’s degree, earning a master’s degree like an MBA (Master of Business Administration) would probably not help you earn any more money in that role. However, if you work in finance, strategic management or information systems, it could pay off. You could see a significant jump in salary and the opportunity to move up in the company.

How long will it take for me to see a return on my investment? Will I get paid more simply by having a graduate degree?

If you have the means, grants or scholarships available to you, return on investment (ROI) may not be at the top of your mind, but it should be. You will spend countless hours away from family, friends, chores and leisure pursuits. Your time is valuable and just because you have class every Saturday this semester does not mean that the household chores can be postponed until after finals. Who will pick up the slack, will you have to pay someone?

You will need to research the job market and understand which degree is going to help you professionally, but also, what jobs are in-demand in the marketplace. Higher demand often drives salaries up. For tips on how to research this, read Advanced Degree, Cost to Benefit Analysis.

Are there any situations where a graduate degree hurts my career outlook?

Employers assume, and rightfully so, that adult learners are more capable of articulating and acting on their professional goals. If you complete a graduate degree, mid-career, in a discipline where you are struggling to find work, this might be particularly confusing for an employer and they may discount you as lacking focus or being indecisive. Likewise, if you initially pursued a graduate degree because you could not find the type of work/salary you desired and you do not have anything on your resume outside of professional sports experience, you have placed yourself at a distinct disadvantage in the job market. Work experience is highly valued by employers. It is important to take advantage of internship and co-op opportunities. When they are not available, it is important to find shorter experiences or to volunteer.

Work with your AthLife Advisor to advise you throughout this process. Attending graduate school is a career decision and it is important to recognize all the areas of impact.

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