Advanced degrees aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
They won’t guarantee you your dream job. They won’t ensure happiness in life, either. But they will cost you a lot of money if you’re not careful.
At age 26, I’ve already completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. That’s not me bragging by any means. Actually, I’m not using my two engineering degrees at all right now (although the job I hold would require at least a 4-year degree of some sort).
I always feel weird explaining this situation to people, but the simplest way to put it: I didn’t completely understand what my interests and desires were before going for these degrees, especially for my master’s. This was a mistake and is one that I think others make by blindly moving on to acquire advanced degrees.
I don’t regret my choices. Luckily, I was able to get both degrees with less than $8,000 in loan debt, which I recently paid off. But I wish I would’ve considered the reasons for getting these degrees and what sort of future it would lead me to.
Don’t get me wrong: Advanced degrees are a great thing if you earn them and use them effectively.
But they can be detrimental if you go about it wrong. Here’s my attempt to steer you towards or away from an advanced degree, depending on where you fall.
It’s Not For You If…
You simply don’t like their current job. Going back to school to escape your current job is just a bad idea. The grass always looks greener on the side. You may be lucky in finding another job you like more by adding another degree, but don’t assume that’s going to be the case.
You simply can’t find a job. If you can’t find a job, getting a Master’s degree isn’t an automatic solution. There are still people with advanced degrees out there that don’t have jobs. Adding more debt to the mix makes it less pleasant, too.
You’re already deep in debt. If you’ve already racked up a lot of debt, I would urge you to consider paying off at least some of it before returning to school. Having six figures of debt is a daunting amount to pay off, and it will put the pressure on to take the highest-paying (but maybe less ideal) job after you finish your advanced degree.
You are just seeking a credential. If you’re simply looking to add an MBA to your resume because you think it will look good, that’s poor planning. Don’t just rack up credentials. Learn things because you think you’ll get real value out of them.
You think you can’t do something without a certain degree. If you think that you can’t start a business without a MBA, that’s just wrong. A lot of rich and famous entrepreneurs don’t even have bachelor’s degrees, nevermind something further. For more on this, definitely check out Michael Ellsberg’s The Education of Millionaires.
It May Be For You If…
You’re 99% sure what direction you want to go for a career. You’ve got to have a focus that you know you’re interested in. If you’re hoping to find it in graduate school, you’re in the wrong place. If you’re not that certain, be sure to have a job in your desired field before going to graduate school.
You absolutely need an advanced degree to do your dream job. Obviously, doctors and lawyers fall into this category. There’s no way around it for them. If you don’t need the advanced degree, you should at least have experience working in the field that you wish to enter before going to graduate school on the belief that it’s what you’re meant to do.
You can get employers to pay. Some employers offer to pay for advanced degrees and certificates. This can often be a great deal, but just be aware of stipulations if you choose to leave your job.
Even when graduate school seems, attractive, don’t forget there other ways to learn. Since leaving college, I’ve found other ways to educate myself that aren’t nearly as expensive. Free online courses and tutorials (I do pay for online courses, too), books, blogs, and from other people. These can all be just as or more valuable than paying a few thousand dollars for a single college course.
Before you decide that to go for a Master’s degree, just be honest with yourself. Be as objective and realistic as possible about whether or not this degree is really going to get you where you want to go. Realize that simply earning more money won’t solve all of your problems nor necessarily make you like your job any more pleasing.
p. s. – Sorry (again) to my parents and grandparents, who I know have a heart attack every time I write something like this!
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photo by: Sean MacEntee