Not everyone’s path to higher education is a linear journey.
While many graduate from high school and immediately pursue a bachelor’s degree, the next steps aren’t always as straightforward — should you enter a master’s program? Take a break from school to gain career experience? Apply to internships and fellowships to explore other fields?
With widespread layoffs and the fear of an upcoming recession, you may have contemplated returning to school to either solidify your current position, gain new skill sets or switch industries entirely.
Still, you shouldn’t rush into attending graduate school, and you need to carefully consider your field of study and what you want to accomplish with your degree. It’s a major commitment that will impact your life in various ways, and it takes meticulous planning to allocate both the time and funds to complete a master’s program.
So, how do you know if graduate school is truly the right move for you and your career? Below, we’ve outlined the top considerations and questions to ask yourself before you submit your master’s application.
The Best Reasons to Get a Master’s Degree
To start, you need to determine why you’re thinking about applying to grad school in the first place. There are all sorts of reasons people want to earn a master’s degree, but some are more pertinent than others.
1. You want to earn a higher salary. A master’s degree often leads to higher earning potential, and it’s an investment in your financial future. If you want to boost your salary at your current position, or even make yourself more attractive to future companies, a graduate degree may result in more responsibilities, better compensation and additional employment opportunities.
On average, those with a master’s degree make almost 20% more per week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it can also set you up for future supplemental income positions in higher education, like becoming a professor.
2. You need the degree to advance in your field. From education and medicine to business and law, many fields require a master’s degree or higher to advance your career. In that case, grad school isn’t just an option — it’s a necessity.
If you’re sure of your career path and what you want to accomplish with a graduate degree, it makes sense to complete the necessary education as quickly as possible so you can enter the workforce.
3. You’re looking to change career direction. If you’re dissatisfied in your current role or looking to leave your field completely, you may need to return to school in order to pivot to a new industry.
For certain roles, specific knowledge and training is required before you can land the job. By entering a master’s program, you’ll obtain the skills needed to jump-start a new career, and you can even establish key networking and mentorship opportunities.
Ultimately, if you’re not sure what you want to achieve with your master’s degree, or you’re jumping into graduate school right after your bachelor’s because you’re concerned about leaving the college environment, it would be wise to reconsider your choice.
A graduate program is a major financial and time commitment, and it doesn’t make sense to enroll if you’re unclear about the end result. Allow yourself more time to weigh your options — in most cases, grad school will still be a possibility once you’re ready to apply.
Questions You Need to Ask Yourself Before Pursuing a Master’s Degree
If you’re set on your decision to attend grad school, there are some essential questions you should ask yourself to determine whether it is really the right step for your career.
Why do you want a graduate degree? As previously mentioned, you need to have a specific goal or outcome in mind when earning an advanced degree. By establishing your motivations for graduate school, you’ll be able to dive deeper into your options and explore which programs are best suited for you.
What kind of degree do you want, and where do you want to get it from? When you narrow down which type of degree you want to earn, it’s time to select a program — and university — that fits your interests as well as your goals. You’ll also need to investigate if you’d be a more successful online or in-person candidate, as the program pathway will further impact your experience as a grad student.
How will getting a graduate degree impact your life? It’s easy to acknowledge that getting a master’s degree will improve your job prospects and teach you new skills. But it’s also important to consider the other ways completing a grad program may affect you: Will you have enough time in your schedule for classes, studying and homework? How will you handle the financial responsibilities? Are you prepared to juggle the demands of such an endeavor? And if not, what strategies will you put in place to thrive?
When do you want to start applying? Applying to grad school is a commitment in and of itself. You need to research programs, request and compile specific documents, write personal statements or statements of purpose, request letters of recommendation and more. Craft a timeline and map out when you expect to begin your studies. Typically, you’ll want to start the application process six months before the program’s deadline.
The Next Steps to Take
Once you’ve made up your mind and decided grad school is in your future, and you’ve narrowed down which program and school you want to attend, there is still work to be done.
You have to figure out what you’ll need in order to apply — likely a personal statement, multiple references, a resume and your college transcripts, for starters — as well as make sure you meet the program’s requirements. For many degrees, taking the GRE or GMAT is necessary for consideration.
Once you’re confident that you’re the right fit for the program, have compiled your documents and sent over your application, you’ll want to look into your financial aid options, too. Loans, scholarships and more are all on the table to make your graduate school dreams a possibility.
From there, all you have to do is signal your acceptance and set up your calendar to accommodate your new studies.
While getting your master’s degree can seem like an intimidating process — one that requires hard work, money and time — it is one of the best decisions you can make for yourself. You’ll be learning more about your passion or gaining the skills necessary to take your career in a new direction, so don’t be afraid to take the plunge.
Learn more about USC Online graduate programs today.