Many transitioning service members and veterans view graduate degrees as an attractive option for jumpstarting their new career. There are clear benefits to a graduate degree: gaining new knowledge, building new functional skills and expanding one’s professional network. But for many, pursuing a post-grad degree many not be worth the time, effort, and cost.
Here are three simple steps to help you determine whether a post-graduate degree is right for you:
1. Identify your career path and goals. What is your ultimate career goal? What is your path to achieve that goal? If you are struggling to answer these questions, it may not be the right time for you to pursue a graduate degree. A strategy of using grad school as a means to figure out your next step or identify your professional interests is not a wise one. Instead, seek out veteran career resources designed to help identify the right career path for you. Then, determine if grad school will help you achieve those goals.
2. Do your homework. Sometimes we decide to pursue a career without knowing what the job really entails. If the job differs significantly from our military experience, we may be making an assumption that the job is the right fit. Before committing to graduate school to pursue a certain career path, find out what it is like to work in that role. What is the day-to-day life like? What are the worst/best parts of working in that industry? Not only that, but do you know if an advanced degree is required for your desired career path or to achieve your goals? Use social networking sites (e.g.,LinkedIn, Facebook) to find someone who works in the job you are pursuing and who shares a similar background (veteran, undergraduate school, hometown). Most large companies have a veterans organization; contact the group leader and ask to be put in contact with a member. You will be surprised how many people are willing to take time to speak with you. If you discover that you do not need a post-grad degree to enter a new career field, consider working for a year to validate that it’s the right path for you. It’s better to find out the answer before you spend the time and money on a graduate degree.
3. Do the math. A graduate degree does not necessarily mean an automatic increase in salary. Go to glassdoor, salary.com, or vault for expected salary ranges for various industries. The financial costs and opportunity costs associated with a loss of salary and work experience may sometimes outweigh the benefits of the program. Know what GI Bill benefits you qualify for and weigh the costs of various programs and formats with the cost of tuition and fees. Sometimes it may be more favorable to work part-time and go to school part-time. In other instances, the GI Bill and associated per diem may cover your necessary expenses. In any case, do the math to make sure you are on the best financial footing.
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