How to Decide Whether You Should Go Back to Grad School

College Student with lots of booksLast year, I did something I promised myself I would never do: I went back to graduate school.

It’s not that I think grad school is a bad investment, but I was glad to be done with college, and the idea of going to school and dealing with homework, professors, and reading assignments was just not what I had in mind for my late 20s.

After college, I seemed to float around in my career. I was working as a reporter for a medium-sized metro newspaper, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do long-term.

I had typical post-college questions:

  • What should my career be?
  • Am I on the right path?
  • What should I do with my life?

And like most recent college grads who don’t know what they want to do, I decided that graduate school would be perfect for me.

So I applied. Every year. For several years.

Because every time I was accepted into grad school, I kept changing my mind about whether I actually wanted to go, and whether that was what I really wanted to do.

The first year, I applied to journalism school. Not much of a reach, since I was already working as a reporter. Considering I was making $30k a year as a rookie reporter, the $90k USC journalism program quickly became out of financial reach.

Then I applied to a public relations grad program. Which made sense, since my career now shifted into the PR world. Again, I postponed enrollment.

The year after that, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. Surprise, surprise, I was doing PR for a law firm. After studying for the LSAT and not understanding a single thing, I put that “dream” to rest real quick.

All this time that I was spending trying to decide what to do with my career, I was actually working on my career.

It wasn’t until I finally felt settled in what I wanted to do, and that I found out that my company would pay 75% of my degree, that I finally took the plunge and went back to school for my master’s in public administration.

Here are my dos and don’ts when it comes to deciding on whether or not to go to graduate school:

Don’t go back to school just because you don’t know what to do. Trust me, it’s not going to feel too great spending at least two years of your life and $20k on a degree you’re not even entirely sure about.

Do go back to school if you are 99% sure an advanced degree will help your career.

Don’t go back to school because all your friends are doing it.

Do go back to school if your company will pay at least a portion of your degree.

Don’t go back to school if you’re trying to switch career fields and think a degree will help you make the switch—employers will almost always prefer work experience to a degree, so go find an internship or entry level position in that field first before going back to school. Besides—you haven’t even worked in that field yet, what if you hate it and now you’re stuck with a graduate degree in it?