If you’re an ambitious and hardworking person, then you’ve probably thought about whether or not a graduate degree could help you reach your career goals. For most people who already have a full-time job, the idea of working and going to school seems like too much to handle at once, yet many people decide to take this route and do so successfully. In fact, one study noted that 76% of graduate students worked more than 30 hours per week in 2014. Most master’s programs prefer that you have some work experience under your belt, though you don’t necessarily need to be working while you pursue your degree (a luxury many people cannot afford). There are pros and cons to each approach, and it’s not always clear as to which option is best for you. Here’s what you need to know about the good—and the bad—of working while you pursue your degree.
You’ll keep your benefits
If you have a job that gives you good benefits, such as healthcare and 401(k), working full time while going to school will allow you to keep those benefits. Saving early for retirement is crucial to having enough money when you can no longer work, and health insurance can be very expensive without employer sponsorship.
You’ll be able to better understand and apply your theoretical studies
Having real-life examples from your job will help you learn and absorb the program’s material more quickly and fully. You may even be able to apply your theoretical studies while on the job, allowing you to see what kind of results you can get in real-life situations.
You’ll pay off your education more quickly
Obviously, some master’s programs are more expensive than others. You probably won’t be able to cover both your tuition and living expenses on your salary alone. However, making money while you go to school will make the costs more manageable long-term. Some employers may even be willing to sponsor some or all of your tuition!
You could earn more money in the long run
One of the biggest draws of graduate school is the potential salary increase. MBAs can earn a median salary of $98,626 per year after 10 years, which helps to justify the time and cost associated with getting a graduate degree. Furthermore, some degrees (like an MBA) are flexible and allow graduates to work in several different fields.
You’ll stay up to date
The world is changing quickly, and if you spend several years devoted to your studies, you’re likely to miss the latest trends in your field. By staying in the workforce while you study, however, you’ll stay up to date and keep yourself relevant.
You’ll accrue debt
Unless you get enough scholarships to cover both your tuition and living expenses, you’ll probably go into debt to complete your degree. That’s not the end of the world if you’re able to use your degree to pay it back, but the less debt you gain during the process, the better.
You’ll be prone to burnout and overwork
Some students have a grueling schedule that involves working a standard 9-5 schedule, then heading to class in the evening—not getting home until at least 10:30. It’s easy to burn out on a schedule like that, especially since most degrees take two years or more to complete.
A master’s degree won’t necessarily help you
Depending on your field, you may not need a graduate degree at all. What’s the point of going to school if you can work your way up the ladder without a degree? In some fields, it’s less about the certifications and more about the skills. Others, such as in the medical and legal fields, certifications and degrees matter.
The degree will take longer
You can’t (or at least shouldn’t) go to school full time AND work full time. This means that any degree program will take longer to complete than if you dedicated all your time to it.
Schedules might not match up
Even though so many working professionals go back to school, graduate school schedules can be tricky to fit into a work schedule. Depending on your degree, night, weekend, and online options may not exist.
Should You Go Back to School?
There’s no way to know how you’ll do juggling work and school until you try it. No matter whether you are an entrepreneur, emergency management specialist or a teacher, If you’re flourishing in your career and advancing without a master’s degree, you may not want to add anything extra to your life—especially something that’s so time-consuming. However, if you’re hitting the ceiling at work, and you can’t advance without more knowledge or certification, the time may be right to look into graduate programs. In the end, only you can make the call—but the good news is that it’s never too late to go back to school when and if the time is right for you.