The debate on the value of higher education continues to intensify. High school graduates are attending college at record rates. There are conflicting conclusions on the fate of college graduates in the job market. Although, overall, the US Census Bureau reported lower unemployment rates for degreed individuals, the Associated Press found that 53% of Bachelor’s Degree holders were unemployed or underemployed. Facing a stout job markets, going back to school may seem like the next right thing for a recent grad to do. So, how do you decide if an advanced degree is right for you?
The emergence of online courses and 5 year Master’s degrees now have made obtaining an advanced degree easier than ever. But, are the risks, opportunity cost and/or financial burden worth it? Some questions to consider:
What are your career goals?
If you are not able to articulate a thorough answer this question, you are not alone. Generally speaking, it is best that you gain more experience before going back to school. Broad aspirations such as: “to obtain a leadership position” or “to open up career possibilities” are not sufficient to thoroughly evaluate if an advanced degree is for you. Also, it may take a few years of working to really know what you want to do. If you are not able to work directly in your target field to test things out, try volunteering your time and/or conducting informational interviews. Even if your current job involves waiting tables, you can learn quite a bit about yourself and personal preferences while working any job.
Do I need an advanced degree?
Once you understand your career goals, you can evaluate whether you need an advanced degree to be successful. Do you simply want the degree to help you professionally or is it imperative to break into or move up into your field of choice? With so many educational programs available, a certificate program or additional courses may be all you need. Be sure to talk to others in your target field before making a decision.
What is the employment outlook?
In some booming fields such as Healthcare and Technology, there are more open jobs than qualified candidates. Before enrolling in a Master’s program, research the job market to find out what occupations and industries have a strong outlook. Your degree is an investment so treat it like one. Would you invest your money in a company without a strong business plan? Probably not. So, similarly, do not invest in a degree that may be “bankrupt” in 5 years.
Do I have the time?
Graduate school is not just about curriculum, it is also about networking and professional development. Graduate school is not just about studying - you will also need time to develop a network that may last a lifetime. Non-classroom items such as job searching, networking and industry research could require 30-40% of your time. Some of you may already have a job and may enroll in a part-time program but these experiences are still important.
A successful graduate school experience requires careful planning. Nothing can replace real-world experience so, if possible, try to work before making any major decisions. Mentors and trusted advisors are also important in the graduate school assessment process.
LaTonya Wilkins is a Workforce Pro that specializes in Talent/Career Management & Organizational Development. You can view her blog at www.workplace-wonders.com or follow her on Twitter (@LaTonyaWilkins).
Category: Edu & Growth