Grad School, or Not?

Ellen is a client who decided in her mid-thirties to get a masters’ degree. At our first meeting, she described how frustrated she felt because she was unable to find interesting, challenging and rewarding work. Something was missing. After she clarified her passion, strengths, and the work she most wanted to do, she painfully acknowledged that she lacked some of the knowledge and skills she needed. When I first suggested the possibility of an advanced degree, she was adamantly against it because of the enormous fee. Reluctantly, she began researching programs and found several where she could fill in the gaps that were holding her back. Finally, she envisioned an exciting future and took the leap. Now she’s in her second year. She has not regretted her decision for one minute.

We’ve continued our coaching relationship and I’ve had the privilege of hearing about her school experiences. The projects she has worked on have been amazing and her confidence in her abilities has skyrocketed. This past summer she had a richly rewarding and well-paying internship that she never would have gotten on her own. This coming summer she will land another with a second great company.

I’ve been thrilled that she feels it’s already been worth the time and money. And, she hasn’t even completed the degree yet.

What about the money?

I hate that the cost is such a hurdle but there are many reasons to do it anyway:

  1. It will open new avenues for work that you probably would not find any other way.
  2. You will make friends for life and have a ready-made network.
  3. Many clients complain that they’re not learning at their jobs and they’re happiest when they’re doing that. If this is you, you’ll be in heaven.
  4. It’s an investment in your future that will pay off over and over.
  5. Your life may take several interesting turns through the people you meet and experiences you have.
  6. You can become an expert in an area.
  7. You’ll have a chance to experiment in a way that you often can’t in a job.
  8. Most likely you’ll have many years left to work, even if you do this in your fifties. And, you’ll have time to pay off the debt.
  9. As an adult, you’ll be a great student.
  10. Your earnings potential will be greatly increased over a lifetime of work.
  11. There are scholarships, loans and Teaching Assistantships available to help. Use all of them if you can.

Choosing a school

Returning to school is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your lifetime so Ellen suggests you research schools carefully. Don’t just look at a catalog; go visit. Interview graduates. Talk to teachers. Find out where graduates are working.

When you’re on campus or at an Open House, pay attention to how you feel. Ask yourself: Are these my people? Is this my tribe? Does this feel like home?

Admittedly, an advanced degree is not a career plan but it is a huge opening and a solid foundation. It will give you an opportunity to follow your passion and interests and see where they take you.

Go full time if at all possible. There’s nothing like total immersion, but if you can’t, even if it takes you many years to finish, it’s worth it.

Sarah, a client I’m working with who is in her twenties, fretted that she’s not sure which of two areas she should choose for her masters. “I’m afraid of making a wrong choice,” she said. I told her, “You can’t make a mistake.” Here’s why. No matter which you choose, if you take the high road, you’ll win. Just get everything you can out of the experience. You’ll even learn how to learn. And, by finishing, you’ll demonstrate your ability to complete huge projects.

I love the following question one person asked Sarah in an information interview she conducted. I suggest you ask yourself the same one: Will you regret it if you don’t do it?

If the answer is yes, full speed ahead.

Keep thriving,


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