career-coachingWhether the ink on your bachelor’s degree is barely dry or you’re considering a mid-life career shift, you may find yourself weighing the pros and cons of attending graduate school. And while graduate school can significantly widen your career opportunities, it can also place a substantial burden on your finances — not to mention your time.

How can you decide if grad school is the most prudent step to take along your professional path? A career coach can help you explore your goals and aspirations so that you can approach the grad school decision with greater confidence. She can also provide you with the resources to help you make a more informed evaluation about the risks versus rewards.

Whether you enlist the help of a career coach, or go it on your own, the decision to enroll in grad school shouldn’t be made lightly. Following are four questions that can help you get the ball rolling:

Is Grad School Right for You — Right Now?

1. Does your chosen career require an advanced degree? If so, you’ll need to earn one — but the next question quickly becomes: Is this the best time to do so? Sometimes we can be tempted to defer our dreams or even convince ourselves we don’t want certain things because we’re afraid of what following that dream will entail. Keeping in mind that big changes require bold moves, you’ll want to seriously consider taking the plunge and enrolling in grad school if what you really want to do can’t be achieved any other way.

2. Have you calculated a likely ROI? Unless you’re financially independent, chances are you will want your graduate education to pay off in tangible ways. Are you sure your advanced degree will? While outshining the competition with fancy letters after your name may seem like a prudent idea, there are still plenty of professions that value solid job experience more than an advanced degree. Not sure if a graduate degree is worth the effort and money? A career coach can help you assess the current job market and identify resources that can help answer this question. Requesting an informational interview from someone who works in the field is another great way to learn more about the specific industry from “the inside.”

career-coaching3. Is your potential degree something you genuinely want to study? If you’re a non-traditional student, you might be juggling term paper deadlines and class schedules with the demands of home, family and work. Is there anything you want to learn badly enough to merit the sacrifice? Do you intend to use the degree upon graduation? Are you ready/willing to be a student, with the discipline to spend hours reading textbooks, conducting research and writing papers? If you hesitate when answering any of these questions, grad school may not be the best move for you right now.

4. Can you afford it? It’s a rare and fortunate individual who doesn’t incur debt along with his or her advanced degree. Don’t forget to include the costs of books, transportation, mandatory fees and other costs beyond tuition – even childcare, if applicable. While intended to be a long-term investment in your career, can your current financial situation withstand the strain?

What other factors have been pivotal in your decision to attend — or not attend — grad school?

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