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Back to the Quad: What factors to weigh when considering grad school

Posted by Devin Cole  January 27, 2012 01:47 PM

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Tufts.JPGLeaving a secure job that has potential for upward mobility to incur tens of thousands of dollars more of student loan debt doesn't seem like the best decision to make in the current economic climate.

So why would one decide to re-enter the world of academia?

My decision to go back was grounded in the fact that I wasn't working in a career that I wanted to pursue in the long term. This isn't a knock on the job, the office, or the people I worked with; it's just a simple fact. I graduated from Connecticut College in 2009, and there wasn't exactly a plethora of options available to me. My first few jobs out of school were of the, "any port in a storm" variety.

Also, I wasn't sure what it was I wanted to do with my life. Working for a couple of years after college gave me the time to figure that out, and I highly recommend it to everyone considering any type of education after college.

It gets you real world experience and might even direct you to a career you wouldn't have considered but which you really enjoy. It also shows future employers that you've taken time to weigh your options, and you aren't just diving headlong into grad school because you don't know what else to do after undergrad.

My lack of qualifications also helped nudge me back to school. For a little while, I entertained the notion I could get into the field I wanted to pursue (urban planning) without any more school. I had a good resume and transcript and thought those plus my work experience would equal a new job. I quickly realized that I just didn't have the right skills, and I could really only acquire those skills if I went back to school.

Another factor I had to keep in mind was whether or not the investment in graduate school would be worthwhile.

This is when I had to let my more reasonable, objective brain take control. Going back to school after college is an expensive venture. I was already carrying some student loan debt, so would adding more to that be irresponsible? Would my Master's help pay for itself or would I be paying off the debt as a grandfather?

The programs I was looking at averaged roughly $30,000 a year and lasted two years. I figured that I wanted to make that investment back in ten years, and that getting a degree would let me make the additional $6000 a year and then some, so I decided that the Master's would be worth the investment. I was also lucky enough to get a scholarship, so my investment will be paid off that much sooner.

You also need to consider how you want to go back to school. Most graduate programs offer a full-time and a part-time option, and each has its benefits and drawbacks. Going part-time means you can likely keep your current job and the income that comes with it while you are working towards the next part of your career, but it also will drag out whatever program you choose. Going full-time keeps the program shorter, but it isn't likely you can have a full-time job as well.

Also, depending on your individual situation, you may have a significant other to keep in mind as well. Being a student has much different hours than your standard 9-to-5 job. It's important to prepare your guy or gal for the changes to your schedule and make sure they know what to expect. The last thing you need is to be worrying about an upset boyfriend or girlfriend and a due date for a term paper at the same time.
In the end, everyone's situation is going to be unique.

For me, grad school made sense. It will get me onto the career path I want to be on and will (hopefully) pay for itself over the course of that career. Going full-time factored into that decision because it meant starting that career sooner rather than later. I am also lucky enough to have a fiancee who has been on board 100% from day one.

But regardless of your situation, if you are thinking about going back to school, you need to keep in mind all of these things. Any type of school after undergrad should be a place to focus and refine your career goals and skills, not just a place to hide from the job market.

Nick Downing is originally form Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He went to Connecticut College in New London, CT, and moved to Boston after graduation in 2009. He is currently a first year at Tufts University studying for his Master's in Urban Planning and a serves as Program Manager for Future Boston Alliance.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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