How to Know When It's the Right Time to Go Back to School

Business.com / Entrepreneurship / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Going back to school could advance your career, but you're already strapped for time and money. When is the right time to go back to school?

As an adult with a family and an established career, the decision regarding whether or not to go back to school for a post-graduate degree can be difficult. 

On the one hand, a graduate degree could land you a higher-paying job or help you be a better entrepreneur. On the other, you’re already strapped for time and the upfront cost could be expensive.

So how do you come to a responsible conclusion?

Benefits of Going Back to School

While your decision regarding whether or not to return to school may not be the most important choice you ever have to make in your life, it certainly shouldn’t be taken lightly. Let’s start by analyzing some of the potential benefits of getting a graduate degree, before looking at the other side of the equation. 

  • More career opportunities. There’s a common saying today that, “The master’s degree is the new bachelor’s degree.” In other words, so many people now hold graduate degrees that you simply need one to level the playing field. By returning to school and getting another degree, you can open up an entirely new world of career opportunities. 
  • Better pay/benefits. As a direct result of these new opportunities, you’ll also be able to increase your potential earnings. According to data from the 2010 Census Bureau, a master’s degree has the ability to add between $12,000 and $17,000 per year in income (when compared to a bachelor’s degree).
  • Flexible options. When you compare today’s situation to where things stood 15 or 20 years ago, it’s never been easier to go back to school and further your education. Flexible online programs are available that specifically cater to the needs of business professionals. In some cases, you may even be able to finish in as little as 18 months. With opportunities like these, many of the potential negatives are alleviated. 

Related Article: Follow the Yellow Brick Road (to Your Ideal Career Path)

Negatives of Going Back to School 

However, that’s not to say going back to school is a simple proposition. It’s still very challenging and comes with its own set of considerations. Specifically, you’ll want to consider the following three: 

  • Time consuming. Time is often the biggest roadblock standing in the way of a person’s decision to return to school. This is especially true if you already have a family and busy lifestyle. Depending on how fast you choose to proceed, a graduate degree program could take you anywhere between 18 months and three or four years.
  • Financial commitment. It’s also important to look at the financial challenges of going back to school. While you’ll likely be better off in the long run, the upfront cost of schooling could be impractical or stressful for your family. Depending on what program you choose to pursue, how long it takes, what course focus you choose, and a number of other factors, the average cost of a master’s degree falls somewhere between $30,000 and $120,000 (but likely closer to the lower number).
  • It's hard! This could be looked at as a positive or negative, depending on the type of person you are, but going back to school is extremely challenging. If you aren’t up for the challenge, you could become easily discouraged and frustrated. It’s also possible that your study skills may be a little rusty and the transition back to the classroom could prove difficult. 

Related Article: A Career Coach Reveals: What's Wrong With Your Résumé?

Weighing the Pros and Cons

The only way to properly weigh the potential benefits and negatives is by asking yourself questions regarding the effects of your actions. Answers to the following three will generally point you in the right direction:

  • Will the new degree make me more marketable or help me obtain a new job? Do you already know how a new degree would impact your marketability or future job prospects, or are you taking a shot in the dark hoping it will improve your current situation? Do your due diligence ahead of time and find out what’s realistic. 
  • How much will it improve my salary or potential future earnings? A cost-analysis is a must. Find out how long it will take you to break even on your new degree (time and financial costs) and whether it’s worth it. 
  • How long will the degree program take and how will the time commitment affect my family? Take a long look at how the degree program will affect your ability to spend time with your family and consider the long-term effects of your decision. In some cases it will make sense, in others it won’t.

Where do you stand on the issue? Do you believe a return to school for a post-graduate degree could improve your lifestyle and career potential? If so, now is the time to start looking into degree options and programs to find one that works for you and your family.

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