Is graduate school the right choice for you?

These days it’s difficult to ride the Metro or walk around town without seeing an ad for continuing education. Some promise career advancement or promotion into leadership roles, whereas others appeal to ideals of self-actualization. The D.C. region is full of smart, accomplished professionals, many of whom relocated to the area to pursue higher education and remained here because of employment opportunities. However, some can experience feelings of dissatisfaction or frustration at work, as many professionals do at some point, and the idea of re-inventing yourself through additional education seems especially tempting on those days your career feels stalemated. I was once one of those people.

Ten years ago, I made the decision to leave a full-time job in higher education, which included health benefits and a retirement plan, to pursue my doctorate at the University of Maryland, College Park. There were two main factors that contributed to this decision: I had been teaching an evening course on the very subject matter that would turn into my dissertation, and I wanted a more formal platform for my research. I also genuinely loved (and still love) teaching college students of all ages. The other was that after three years, I felt that I couldn’t advance at my former job, and this led to personal and creative dissatisfaction. Seeking change, I enrolled in a Kaplan course to improve my GRE scores, revised my writing samples, and cold contacted potential faculty advisors at my selected programs to see if they’d work with me.

After two years of applying, I was offered a fully-funded graduate teaching assistantship which included a small nine-month stipend and health benefits. But there was a catch: the initial funding offer was for four years, and it took doctoral students in my program an average of eight to nine years to finish. During the eight years it took to finish my PhD, I worked two consecutive graduate assistantships, one in teaching and one in academic advising, taught yoga classes on campus, and finally returned to full-time work at the university to complete my degree. I juggled work with my personal life, writing, researching, conferencing, grading, tracking my advisors’ availability, and ultimately defending my dissertation. During that time, my industry changed significantly, leaving many in the position to adapt to new or unexpected professions, some rewarding, some less desirable.

Three months ago, I turned to Mission Collaborative to help me clarify what I have to offer outside of academia. I began my private consulting practice in response to the many people in DC, especially professional women, who approached me with questions about pursuing another degree. Many often ask me about my experiences, and it occurred to me that the’re trying to gauge if it’s the right path for them. If that sounds like you, here are some factors to consider:

Identify your motive. Why do you want the degree? Some people genuinely love learning and are satisfied by the process. Perhaps continuing their education has been a personal goal to enhance their knowledge and skill set. Others have a specific research project they want to pursue, and a graduate degree would afford them potential funding opportunities while building professional credibility in their industry. Some career paths absolutely require additional education, especially if you want to practice law, psychology, or medicine. Other degrees, such an MBA, can potentially help you define a specific path in your field while expanding your professional network. However, attaining another degree doesn’t necessarily guarantee higher pay, a promotion, or professional respect, and it’s important to do some research.

Do your homework. If you are considering grad school because you want to reroute or advance your career, be intentional about finding alumni or current students in the programs you’re considering. Try reaching out to