School choice: Does it make sense for you to work toward an advanced degree?


Thinking about going back to school? It can be an obvious way to make yourself more valuable to your boss. After all, one of the best ways to grow within a company is to continue gaining skills that can be put to use on a 9-to-5 basis. But before you head back to the hallowed halls of academia, remember that working toward a degree takes time and money. While there's always value in gaining additional knowledge, your additional education may not always pay off in your paycheck.

"As a first step for someone thinking about going back to school, you should research the number of jobs that are available in your current field. Then look at job titles that are related to your current field or desired field," says Jennifer Lasater, vice president of Employer and Career Services at Kaplan University. "Is there a big difference between what credentials you have and what you need?"

Do your homework

Lasater suggests looking at data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics to see which fields will show high growth in the years ahead. This is especially critical for students who've worked in other fields for a number of years. "For example, if you're retiring from the military, the cybersecurity field is growing rapidly and candidates with military experience and security clearances are in high demand," she says. "By adding a degree in cybersecurity to compliment your experience, you may be able to transfer into a new field while still capitalizing on your previous experience."

Ultimately, employees need to take an inventory of the skills they have in relation to the jobs they want. Lasater suggests asking yourself the following questions:

-- What areas do you need to add or improve?

-- What skills do you need in order to change jobs or careers?

-- What degrees offer you the opportunity to grow those skill-sets?

-- Will you have the time to be able to complete your degree and maintain your personal commitments?

"Make sure you complete a degree that will work with your personal situation so that you can maintain balance in your life," Lasater says.

Lasater says employees must check their current employee benefits to see if there is a tuition match or discount with certain institutions. "You also will need to speak with your current manager about using your tuition benefits. You should be ready to explain that this is a great way for you to add to your skill set and offer even more to your current employer," says Lasater. "A mid-year review or annual review is a good time to show how engaged you are with your employer and how you want to continue and develop with them."

Go or no?

Joe DePaulo, CEO of College Ave Student Loans, says anyone thinking about going back to school should consider the following five factors:

1. Do the math: According to a survey from, the average cost of a graduate degree is between $30,000 and $120,000. That's a broad range, so do your homework to determine how much you expect to spend and how much more you expect to earn to make sure the investment is likely to pay off.

2. Be clear about your goals: Many recent college graduates find themselves faced with two options: launching a career or attending grad school. Identify which path will help you achieve your career goals. In some case, an advanced degree is necessary before you can even apply for your dream job. For others, pursuing a graduate degree and delaying a salary may not be the best option. It might be better to enter the workforce and attend classes for your graduate degree part-time (and maybe even find an employer who will help you pay for it).

3. Know the job market: Recent U.S. Census Bureau data indicated that only about 12 percent of respondents over the age of 25 had a master's degree or above, so a graduate degree could help you stand out, whether you're landing a job or applying for a promotion. Don't assume that this will always hold true though, particularly early in your career. Do some research on the types of jobs you're planning to apply for and the companies you'd like to join to better understand how your graduate degree will be valued.

4. Consider the time: Pursuing a professional degree can be time-consuming; it can take approximately two years to finish a master's degree and several years to finish a doctorate. Explore different options and programs -- some offer flexible part-time options and online classes.

5. Figure out how to pay: A lot of financial options from undergrad apply to grad school -- such as financial aid and/or scholarships. Some employers also offer tuition reimbursement benefits. If Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans, savings, and scholarships aren't enough to cover the full cost though, private student loans are another option you can explore. Be sure to look for lenders with great rates and the repayment flexibility to fit your life.

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