I am going to date myself here, but when I typed in the title “Back to School” I wondered how many folks would think of Rodney Dangerfield’s movie from 1986? Never heard of it…neither did lots of people who were watching movies in 1986. In short, the premise of the movie is about a wealthy businessman who goes back to earn a college degree to show his son that education is important. And with any Rodney Dangerfield movie, there were plenty of laughs as this older student embraced the joys of student life.
So what does Rodney Dangerfield have to do with your career? Maybe more than you think.
People in and out of the workforce will often ask me/tell me about their plans to go back to school. Law school, MBA, or other graduate degree – while I value education (let’s face it, I work in the industry) I always stress outcomes when talking about going for further education.
- What is your desired outcome? When I speak to students who are pursuing advanced degrees, I speak about the difference between undergraduate and graduate time on campus. While terms like “experience”, “growth opportunity”, “finding oneself” are used when one is 18 and heading off to college, these are not terms that should be associated with graduate school. Before one accepts a spot in a graduate program, a candidate needs to know where he/she wants to be at the end of the graduate program. Going to graduate school to avoid a bad job market or in hopes of finding your vocation is an expensive gamble. I have seen too many professionals come out with an MBA or JD degree, $100K in debt, and still clueless about their career aspirations. Before you go to Day One of grad school, one should know where he/she wants to be on the last day of grad school.
- What will this degree do for you (that you can’t do for yourself)? There are students who are in graduate programs because they think it is there only way to break into X field. I have worked with several individuals who decided they wanted teaching and thought they should go back and get an M.Ed. degree. For some, this was the right path, but often they were not aware that there are alternative licensing routes in most states. Advanced degrees can do many things – make it easier to transition from one industry to another, fast track the climb of the corporate ladder, build your skills to advance your career, etc. – but there are usually alternate routes one could take. Be sure you consider all your options prior to going back for the degree.
- What are the costs of the degree? Besides tuition/room and board, there are other costs of earning another degree. You are removing yourself from the working world and thus lost wages, retirement savings, relocation (if the school is not local) are all costs that should be evaluated when calculating if an advanced degree is a smart financial move. As we have seen in the past few years, the paycheck for MBA grads and attorneys have been hit hard, it may take longer to recoup the financial commitment of an advanced degree.
Graduate school can be a great move for one’s career and in certain fields it is pretty much mandatory for advancement. Just make sure you are heading Back to School for the right reasons!