Many professionals are eager to find ways to up their career ladders, and one of the most common paths they consider is graduate school. Advanced degrees seem to equip professionals with enhanced knowledge and skill coveted by organizations eager for top talent and high performance.
Yet, graduate school comes with noteworthy costs. In addition to the literal costs of tuition, students must make difficult decisions regarding how they manage their time as they pursue their degree: Do they quit their job to focus on skill-building for a limited amount of time, or do they pick up as many credit hours as they can while juggling their professional responsibilities? In some fields, degree programs can last years, during which time a student could be gaining valuable real-world experience and professional contacts.
So, is a graduate degree worthwhile? Read on to find out.
When is the Right Time to Go to Graduate School?
It is unlikely that high-level degree programs would exist if no one benefitted from them in some way. Advanced degrees are excellent for providing students with deep knowledge in a specific subject, which can be exceedingly valuable to professionals looking to specialize within their career field. However, advanced degrees can require years of effort to obtain, and spending such a long period in the classroom and away from the real world can be dangerous if the professional hopes to return to a position in the industry.
For professionals intending to work in industry, there are two instances when it is beneficial to return to school for a graduate degree:
When you want to pivot your career into a new field:
Many professionals are interested in following a career lattice, which takes them into new fields in which they may have gaps in their knowledge and skill. In this case, a graduate degree program might be a shortcut to gaining the knowledge and skill necessary to reach advanced positions within the field.
When you are passionate about a subject matter:
Passion is a powerful driving force that should not be denied. Professionals who feel passionately about a subject matter will likely feel fulfilled by participating in a graduate program focusing on that field. Likely, they will be able to utilize their enhanced credentials to find work that relates to their passion or identify ways to apply their passion to their existing career thanks to enhanced knowledge and skills.
Is There a Time Graduate School Isn’t Necessary?
Well, not all reasons to go to a graduate school are good reasons. In fact, some of the more common goals professionals provide when asked about their decision to pursue an advanced degree are not guaranteed through graduate school. Some unsatisfactory circumstances for seeking a graduate degree include:
You want specific professional skills:
Degree programs allow professionals to specialize — within a field. If a professional truly wants to understand and gain skills related to a single area, like performance management or process design, enrolling in graduate school is a bit unwarranted.
You do not have any spare time:
Graduate programs are time-consuming, even to the point of becoming full-time jobs. Professionals who are already struggling to find time in their days for basic self-care should not take on another major responsibility like graduate school.
When you would have to go into significant debt:
Some graduate students can pay for their education with scholarships, grant money, or personal savings, but some need to take out student loans. Admittedly, graduate degrees holders typically do earn higher salaries than their non-degreed peers. However, if a professional must leave their position and take out a significant amount of debt to complete their degree, the salary increase might not cover the expense and the effort might not be worthwhile.
Graduate school is an option for any professional looking for ways up the career ladder, but often it is not the best option. Instead of devoting years to a degree that does not contribute much to career success, a professional might opt to enroll in a variety of short courses, which demand less time and less investment while providing excellent access to the knowledge and skills professionals benefit from in their careers. A professional lacking a good reason to enroll in graduate school might also look for opportunities to learn within their organization, like mentorship and internship programs, executive shadowing experiences, or field trips to different departments.
Graduate school can be a useful tool for an ambitious professional, but most professionals would do better to consider other options for increasing their knowledge and skill. Ultimately, the answer to the question “Will a graduate degree help your career?” is a confident and unwavering “it depends.”