Jackie Quinn-Piper
February 18, 2015 6:08 am

I recently had a brilliant idea. I thought “self, you don’t have enough stress in your life. Perhaps applying, enrolling in, and now attending grad school will help up the ante a little bit.” And whaddya know? It did.

Much like many of my fellow “millennials” I, well we, are still trying to figure things out. I, for one, have always been a huge advocate for pursuing higher education and have forever felt that an education is priceless, will shape you for the better, can never be taken away from you and can only lead to bigger and better things down the road.

However, what if you already have an undergraduate degree and are scrambling to pay your mountain-high student loan debt? Maybe you’re working full-time and have a pretty full schedule. Maybe you’re saddled with family obligations or just the plain fear of “will this be worth the cost and sacrifice in the end?” These were all thoughts that raced through my mind all day, every day while I was making the to grad school or not to grad school decision — and I made sure to let every living creature I came in contact with know it! Ultimately, I think I made the right decision for me (and I can’t stress enough that this decision is SO personal). Here are some things I did and questions I considered that helped me to take that educational leap.

Get thee to the internet!

Research, research, research. If you don’t know which schools you’re interested in applying to, start searching. Find rankings, articles, descriptions, scope around and see which LinkedIn connections you have who’ve taken the plunge in a similar field, and read blogs. Just get as informed as you can be on the wide breadth of schools available to you. Once you’ve found a few good contenders do the whole “check out their homepage” thing. You should be able to find all information such as acceptance requirements, the length of the program, cost per unit, and degree completion requirements. You can find out if there is a part-time option available, are classes available in the evening to accommodate students who work during the day? You can also look up professor bios to see what they specialize in and what types of courses are offered.

Let’s play 21 questions.

Talk to people. On the program webpage there usually is an “about us” or “meet the staff” link. Send the office assistant, adviser, or director for that matter, an email to schedule a phone call. Let them know you’re considering applying and would like to ask some questions about the program. Ask about anything that wasn’t clear on the website. Do they know of any scholarships that would be available? Does the program offer teaching assistant opportunities for a stipend? Is there a stipend? How do the other students balance their schedules? You can ask to be put in touch with a professor, current student or recent graduate. I found it extremely helpful to talk to someone that had gone through the program. I unleashed a fury of questions showcasing my feelings of self-doubt and anxiety to a recent grad and miraculously they helpfully and happily answered all of them.

And then add some more questions, so like, 31 questions instead of 21.

Let’s be real people. Gone are the days when people pursued degrees for learning’s sake. I did this as an undergrad and I am appreciative and proud of my experience. But now that I’ve entered this world of crushing responsibility, my priorities have changed a bit. I’m older and I’m married, so there’s that I work a pretty busy full-time job so I also wanted to be sure that I could handle the extra load. I’d also be taking out loans. My attempt of a realty TV show to pay for school failed, so finances were a huge concern. So those were all factors I considered.

Another big question to ask, will this degree help me professionally to do what I want to do? Now, if you want to be a lawyer or a doctor, we can be sure the answer to that last question is yes. But, if you’re pursuing something like a degree in business, accounting, education, psychology, etc. you may need to ponder this a little more. A good way to go about this is to use Linkedin. Be a bit of a career stalker and seek out those people in those jobs you hope to get. What’s their educational background? Politely ask if they’d be able to shed some advice on how they got where they are.

The essential gist is to ask questions and learn as much as you can. I went on grad school blogs, I wrote down a pros and cons list, I talked to my manager at work, my parents, my dog and then my cats when my dog got distracted by a ball. It’s a huge decision and massive lifestyle change. It’s one that I have managed to make work and find balance with. Sort of. But, I am pursuing a goal and with it a long-time dream which is never ever a bad or wasteful thing. Now, to the library!

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