It’s tempting to go back to school and get another degree as a strategy to make more money or change careers. Are you making the right call? Laura and Kate pose 5 insightful questions to help you find out.
“Apply yourself. Get all the education you can, but then do something. Don’t just stand there, make it happen.” – Lee Iacocca
Should You Go Back to School and Get Another Degree?
Knowing if and when you should go back to school for more education can be the key to a better job and earning more money. It’s also a great way to launch an entirely new career, pursue a passion or just feed your intellect.
Doing another degree, though, is a huge investment in time and money. Do you really need to do it? Work your way through these five questions to find the right answer:
Question #1: What’s really motivating me?
This question is the most important one. You must first answer this one in order to discover if it’s really smart for you to go back to school and get another degree.
The answer can be pretty straightforward in cases where you know you need a second degree in order to pursue a career path you are sure about. Example: becoming a physician’s assistant by obtaining a Master’s in Physician Assistant Studies.
If your case is not so cut-and-dry, exploring these questions might help you:
- Do you feel your skills are out of date?
- Do you feel like you’re hitting a wall at work? (Otherwise known as the glass ceiling.)
- Are you done with this career and want pivot to something completely new but you’re not exactly sure what?
- Do you want to feel more confident at work or be looked on by others as an authority? Do you want to have greater impact in your organization, in your community or the world?
- Are you bored and studying sounds exciting?
Question #2: Have I done enough research?
One of the best ways to work your way through the questions above is to do some research by talking to other people. Ask colleagues, friends and anyone else you know who studied what you might be interested in to tell you how their degree has helped them at work. Find out what they liked or didn’t like about the program.
Also, talk to program directors at colleges you’re interested in. If you don’t know enough people to talk to, go to Quora or LinkedIn and pose some questions in the appropriate industry group.
Question #3: If I go back to school, will it pay off?
Studying for a second degree can be crazy expensive. Most graduate degrees are funded by debt. That is, you loan money for all the costs and pay the loan back over time, sometimes for as long as 20 years afterward.
The best way to approach this is to first look at all the options you have to do the degree. Look at part-time, full-time programs at all the college and universities in your area, or at in-residence program somewhere else. Then consider online degree programs.
Get a list of all the options and their costs. And by costs we mean everything: tuition and fees, living expenses, travel expenses, and books and materials.
Second, look at any ways you can go back to school and get the degree paid in part or in full by someone else: scholarships, employer tuition assistance, or working at the college as a teaching or research assistant.
Third, figure out what you’ll earn in your first year or two after finishing the degree. Check out sites like Payscale.com, Salary.com and Glassdoor.com. See what starting job titles people with your experience and the degree usually get, and find out what they earn.
Be conservative here. If the salary range is $75,000 to $100,000, assume you’ll make $75,000 at the beginning.
Then do the math. Take your current salary and project how much you would earn from now and until you retire, using your current annual raise. The do the same for the new salary after you’ve earned a graduate degree.
Subtract all the projected expenses—including loans plus interest!–related to getting that degree and you’ll see the difference.
Remember that if you stop working for a while in order to go back to school, you’ll lose retirement benefits paid by your employer and will need to catch up your savings later.
A good rule of thumb is to never borrow more than your starting annual salary. For instance, if you’ll make $75,000, don’t take out more than that amount in student loan debt.
See also: 10 IRA Facts Everyone Should Know
Question #4: Do I really need a full degree?
Sometimes you don’t have to complete a graduate degree to get the benefits of studying. For instance, if your goal is just to get more confident at work or fill some skills gaps, taking a graduate class or two might be enough.
Know you want to start a new career but aren’t certain which direction to go in? Taking a class or two might help you get clear on what you want, without committing up front. Most graduate schools will let you take courses without becoming a degree candidate.
Question #5: Does studying fit with the rest of my life?
You’ll want to consider all the pros and cons before making the final decision if studying is right for you. Many people underestimate just how much time studying takes when you go back to school.
If you’re going to continue working full-time while you’re doing a degree, you won’t have much time left over. But, the sacrifice can be worth it if you want to go further with your career and financial goals.
If, however, you decide that going back to school for another degree isn’t in the cards right now, explore the many other avenues to learn and grow personally and professionally. These include free online classes, reading, doing volunteer work, meeting new people and traveling. There are always ways to learn things you didn’t know!
Richer Life Lab practical
This week’s Richer Life Lab practical is to take some time to answer these five questions, especially the first one (What’s really motivating me?). We want to hear about what’s working for you! Let us know if these questions helped you or if you have other recommendations that we can share with listeners in a future show.
Send us a Lab Report to firstname.lastname@example.org or record a voice message on this page. You can delete and re-record your message if you need to.
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