Advancing in your career usually requires continuing your education. But you may have a lot of questions. How do you know which step to take next? Which option is right for you?
How do I know if I need more education?
Almost all careers require continuing education, whether training to upgrade your job skills or acquiring an additional degree or credential.
- Explore careers online to see what type of continuing education is recommended for your career path.
- Talk to professionals. The best way to figure out what education you need to get ahead is talking to people in your chosen field. Ask them if your current education plan will get you where you want to go.
- Ask your advisor. Your advisor and professors are great resources to help you figure out your next step so be sure to take advantage of their advice
- Explore the return on investment. Is it worth it to earn an advanced degree in your field? Check out federal pathways after a bachelor's degree to see how your salary will increase with a master's or doctorate degree, organized by college major.
Work or school?
For many college students, the question isn’t if they should continue their education after a bachelor’s or associate degree, but when. In some careers, the on-the-job experience you’ll earn working for a few years will be invaluable and will help you succeed in graduate school. In other careers, the only way you’ll get a job is if you already have a higher degree or credential. Keep in mind that some programs, such as a Master’s of Business Administration, may require a few years of work experience before you can apply.
Working can also help you pay for continuing education. But, don’t let the paycheck lure you away from a better opportunity. Some students forget their plans to return to college when they start earning money. Read about your return on investment when you invest in an additional degree.
Am I ready for graduate school?
Not everyone will thrive in the research-heavy environment of graduate school. Some questions to ask yourself:
- Are you ready to work? Even if you’re confident that you want to earn a graduate degree, you may need to work first, and not just for financial reasons. Many programs -- including most MBA (master’s of business administration) programs and many law schools -- require or prefer that applicants have valuable work experience before they apply.
- What are your long-term goals, both personal and professional? How will graduate school affect them?
- What is motivating your desire to attend graduate school? It might not be a wise move if you’re just trying to avoid full-time employment.
- How certain are you that you’ve chosen a career path that is right for you? Would a full-time job prior to graduate school help you make sure your decision is a good one?
- How do your family obligations and work commitments fit into your grad school plans?
- Do you need a break from school, or are you prepared—mentally, physically and financially—to earn another college degree?
- How will you pay for graduate school? Should you consider working first to save money—and perhaps being able to take advantage of employer tuition plans? Don’t forget that you may earn scholarships or grants, however.
- Do your grades show you’re prepared for the challenge? If you’ve struggled in school, the added intensity of graduate school may not be for you, or the timing may not be right.
While you’re considering these questions, make an appointment to speak with an academic adviser. Talking about your plans and graduate school ambitions may help you clarify your goals.
How do I find a graduate program?
Your current professors and advisor may have recommendations, and you can explore colleges online. Since graduate programs are usually more specialized than undergraduate programs, it’s important to find the right fit. Follow these tips to find your best match.
- Do your research. Read about the school online, see if you can find examples of professors’ work and look up rankings.
- Visit. Set up a visit with the admissions office. Speak with current students and visit a classroom.
- Ask a professional. You may want to follow in the footsteps of a professional you admire. For example, if you want to be a doctor, shadow a doctor at a nearby hospital and ask where he or she earned an M.D. degree.
- Ask peers. Do you have friends with similar career goals? Ask where they are applying and why.
How do I continue my education on the job?
When you’re finished with your formal (or college) education, you will still need to keep your job skills up-to-date. Read more about upgrading your job skills.