Returning To School? Here Are 4 Things To Consider
onDecember 12th, 2019
- Updated onDecember 18, 2019 - 3:49pm
If you’re reading this article, chances are that you’re in the same position I was a couple of months ago—trying to decide if going back to school was the best decision for me. I graduated from college five years ago, but I didn’t go straight to graduate school like some of my peers.
Instead, I worked as a history teacher and freelance writer for several years. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school at some point in the future, but right after college didn’t feel like the right time. I asked myself these four questions, and I knew I was ready when my answers were all “yes.”
1. Is This the Right Time?
As my mom always said when I was growing up, “Timing is everything.” This is something that ultimately only you can know. Does the time feel right? As I’ve talked with friends who have gone back to school, they normally knew it was the right time because they were ready for a change.
This could mean that they had wanted to advance in their careers or go back to school for a while but responsibilities in their lives hindered that for some time. As an example, my mom went back to school for a master’s degree almost 30 years after she graduated from college.
My sister and I had graduated from high school, she was teaching English part-time at a local private school, and she was ready to get that master’s in English that she had always wanted.
Another example is my mom’s best friend, who went back to school to get her Associate’s degree when her children were in elementary school because she needed to earn more money after her divorce.
When asking yourself this question, you might consider what responsibilities you have right now and if you could squeeze in time during the week to get schoolwork done, how supportive your family is and if they think it’s a good time, and if there’s a reason why you feel like now is the right time when before it wasn’t.
2. Can You Afford It?
Unfortunately, finances are a consideration when going back to school. If you aren’t planning to work full-time while you get your degree, you need to make sure that you can support yourself, whether that’s through a scholarship or financial aid, a spouse or partner taking care of finances, or money that you’ve saved up.
Be realistic with yourself about how much it is going to cost, and don’t forget to factor in the cost of books! Remember that you’ll likely have to make some sacrifices when you’re going back to school. Make sure you’re ready for that.
See if there are scholarships available to you both inside and outside the institutions that you are considering. Before you hear back about scholarships and aid, have a number in your mind that you’re willing and able to pay. If it’s above that, maybe the time isn’t right or you need to look into additional sources of aid.
Personally, I have found a variety of outside scholarships, both merit- and need-based, specifically designed for people going back to school. It’s definitely worth a quick Google search to see if there are any that you qualify for.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask your institution. I discovered that my university was offering a merit-based scholarship for a specific concentration in a master’s degree. I determined that I could afford to go if I received that scholarship.
3. Do You Want To?
While this factor is less concrete, it is the most important one. You shouldn’t go back to school because everyone is doing it or because you don’t have any other options. You should go because you want to and because it’s the best course of action for you right now.
If you’re not clear on what you hope to get from school (whether that’s a higher paycheck, new opportunities, or personal development), then you’re going to be wasting your time and money. I knew that I wasn’t going to get the most out of graduate school immediately after college because I wasn’t ready, even though I did feel slightly left behind by my peers.
Now I want to go to graduate school, and I selected the best program for me. I am a better student because I have a clear understanding of what the master’s degree I am working toward will get me and I am committed to getting the most from the program.
Before you decide on a program, you’ll probably want to do what I did and put together a cost-benefit analysis of different programs. Ideally, you’ll be able to pay for school while you’re in your program, but you may have to take out loans depending on how much you can work and the cost of your program.
For example, you’ll want to include how much the program costs, what scholarships you might be eligible for and/or have already received, how much you will be able to work during school, and how much money you’ll make while in school and after graduating.
4. Is the Target Job Outlook Healthy?
You’ll want to see what the job market looks like for someone graduating with your degree as well as the job placement rate for the particular schools you’re looking at. You might even want to get in touch with the career services offices and see how they might be able to help you.
If you are exploring a vocational degree and know your target field, be sure to conduct informational interviews with professionals in the field. You can find them on LinkedIn and through professional associations (online and offline). Learn how the work has been changing and the trends that current incumbents are seeing. Is the field recession-proof? How is automation impacting the roles? What are the typical starting salaries? What is the competition like to enter and advance in the field? Are jobs concentrated in specific locations or widely available? Arming yourself with occupational outlook information can also help with course elections during your studies.
I know I picked my particular program because of the connections the Program Director had at an organization I would love to work at. Any school worth your time will help place you in a job; it is just about finding the school that has the most connections to the job of your dreams.
You too should consider whether the time is right, if the money and motivation exist, and if the job market outlook is positive. If you have any doubts, wait a year or two. It will be worth it.
Rachel Basinger is a former history teacher turned freelance writer and editor. History and personal finance are her true passions, and she loves discussing intellectual topics with her friends. She has authored three history books for young adults and transcribed interviews of World War II veterans. In her free time, Rachel is a voracious reader and runner who completed her first half marathon in May 2019.