Working millennials frequently ask me whether going back to school is a good career strategy. In some cases, a master's degree is a must, but in many others, it's not necessary for career success. More times than not, I see individuals opting for grad school because they feel lost or trapped in their current job or career choice. There's the notion that the extra piece of paper (diploma) will be the panacea for lifelong career success and happiness. In my experience, that's just not the case. Before adding the demands of graduate school to your busy work-life, here are four things to consider:
1. Know your motives
It's not unusual to get out in the real world and become unhappy or disillusioned when your career isn't what you imagined for yourself. Rather than taking steps to carve a different path, the automatic response is that you need more education. But, you don’t always need a graduate degree. Take the time to learn from your work experiences, and real life before you give academia another try. Look for ways to gather knowledge, skills, and experience through work projects and on the job training that pushes you down the path you want to go. Most companies don’t care how you got your skills, just that you have them. In fact, some millennials find practical application more beneficial to their career, while co-workers with that extra piece of paper often get too bogged down in process and theory.
2. Be realistic about the time constraints
If you want to go to graduate school part-time, that's great, but be realistic. It’s time-consuming, and it may detract from your current career progression and earning potential. Grad school can be exhausting. You need to carve out time for class, study groups and cramming for exams. This leaves little time to give your job your all and take on work projects, which can become a burden to the team or your boss. Rather than it benefiting your career, it can take a toll, with your peers getting ahead, while you lag behind.
3. Do the math
If you do go back to school make sure you understand the financial implications. If you have existing student loans, realize you will be digging yourself a deeper hole financially. It may be worth it to keep your current position, even a lower paying one, learn essential skills on the side to become more attractive to prospective employers and hold off on an advanced degree.
If you are confident grad school is the right option for you, take advantage of tuition reimbursement benefits offered by many employers. Some are more generous than others, but it all adds up, so factor that into your decision and your timeline. And, if your parents already took out a second mortgage to fund your undergraduate degree but say they will help finance your advanced education, do I even need to say how selfish that is? Please don't take them up on that offer. They need to be digging themselves out of their own hole and saving for retirement. Be a grown up.
4. Don't pressure yourself
And, finally, if you think if you don’t do it now, you never will, that’s nonsense. Many young professionals delay grad school, so don’t let that be your motivating factor. Often it's the best strategy. It may give you ample time to figure out what you really want in your career, rather than just a knee jerk reaction to some short term angst. I waited ten years to go back to school, and I was pregnant, building a house and working full-time. You can do it regardless of what’s going on in your work-life, when it’s right for you.
What's your opinion? Have you opted to delay grad school? Or, decided against it? Please share your experiences and opinions!