Let’s be honest: The decisions you make as an 18-year-old aren’t always the wisest. Luckily, most bad decisions — a bad date or a night out with too many shots — don’t have much of an impact after the initial embarrassment and headaches subside.
On the other hand, if your plan of becoming a philosophy major in college with the hopes of making it rich doesn’t quite pan out, you’re going to be stuck with more than a little headache.
The good news is if your current degree isn’t getting you exactly where you want to be in your career, going back to school may help give you a fresh start.
Enrolling in classes and becoming a student again is a huge life change and can come with a lot of unexpected challenges. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly. If you’re thinking of going back to school, there are some things to consider before sending off that application.
- Is This a Good Time?
If you have a demanding job or a young family, pursuing a degree might make your life too hectic to handle. Between your job, your studies and your home life, stress may become the new best friend that you never wanted and a good night’s sleep a distant memory. You’ll want to make sure you can meet the time commitment before signing up for any classes.
- Will You Be Footing the Entire Bill?
If there’s one truth about getting a degree, it’s that it’s in no way cheap. So if you still haven’t recovered financially from your undergrad degree, paying for grad school can seem frightening. If you’re lucky, however, your company may help foot the bill, helping to ease your load. If not, be prepared to take the cost on yourself. Don’t make any decisions until you check into your company’s policies and look up scholarships and grants to help you figure out finances.
- How Important Is Your Social Life?
If you’re thinking of going back to school, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices and your social life is one of them. Instead of playing darts at your local watering hole or seeing concerts, expect to spend your time studying at your local library and listening to lectures instead. In order to be truly successful in school, prepare yourself – and your friends – for the serious cut in social time.
- Do You Know What You Want to Do?
This is by far the most important question you need to ask yourself before going back to school. Getting a master’s or second degree is a huge commitment and will undoubtedly shape your career for the rest of your life. So before you jump into a program, really assess your interests and your future first to find the career path that’s right for you.
- Are You Ready to Be an Adult in School?
As an undergrad you probably had a few classes with a nontraditional student. This student was likely older than most of the class, and didn’t really fit in or wasn’t first pick for group projects. Depending on your age and your program, you may very well be the oldest person in your classes. Don’t forget to keep this in mind when enrolling, because believe it or not it plays a big role in your education. You may want to check out schools that have more experience with adult learners to get the most of your education.
- Have You Talked to Others in the Field?
Before deciding on a program or degree, it’s best to talk to others currently in your potential field. Ask them about their career path, what they studied and what they like best about what they do. If your dreams and interests align, you can be more confident that you’re choosing the right major. You can – and should – use informational interviewing as a way to get valuable information and create opportunities for networking.
- Have You Talked to Your Potential Professors?
When applying, your contact person at the university will likely be an admissions counselor. However, no one will give you a better idea of the workload and structure of your program than a professor. So, try your best to get in contact and even attempt to get your hands on a copy of a syllabus to get an idea of what’s to come.
- Do You Like Your Company/Current Job?
If you’re planning on getting an advanced degree to get ahead at your company – and a pay raise – think about it first. Take the time to assess your company and see if your goals align with theirs. If they don’t, do some research and find different employers in your area that could be a better fit. It may also be worth a talk with your boss to see how beneficial that degree would really be or if you should invest in continued education instead.
- How Do You Want to Complete Your Degree?
As graduate students typically have more life responsibilities than those of the undergraduate variety – think a job, kids, a mortgage – being a traditional student isn’t always an option. When choosing a school and degree, take into account the type of program you can take on. This includes the length of the program and how classes are held. If you can only fit night classes or online courses into your schedule, choose a program based on that.
- Do you have a passion for your program?
If you’re investing your time, money and future into your graduate degree, you better like it. Whatever degree you choose, be sure it’s something you have a passion for and can see yourself loving for a long time. Before investing in more education, take some time to find your passion.
The decision to continue your education is a tough one to make. But, with a better sense of your goals and passions, as well as an assessment of your career and lifestyle, choosing a program can be easier and more successful. So, before you dive head-first into a career in anthropology or religion, do some soul-searching and some research to make the best choice for you.