In making a decision to pursue an advanced degree, one must consider many of the same factors that went into the decision for undergraduate studies. Cost of attendance, location of program, job availability, job advancement, average salary post-completion, and more, should be evaluated. One advantage that many advanced degree programs have is that they favor the working individual. Classes are either online or in the evenings when most people are through working their normal, everyday shifts. I want to emphasize work for a few reasons as it pertains to graduate school studies.
While I applaud the passion and the dreams of achieving high levels of education, I also want to stress the need to build experience alongside that education. If you have any level of education, it is important to evaluate the need for the next level of education achievable. If a person has an Associate’s degree or even a certificate, has a great job with those credentials, the need to pursue a Bachelor’s degree may not exist. Careers in surgical technology, dental hygiene, and others may not require advanced degrees unless the person was expanding beyond the field itself. Areas like administration may require more schooling in some cases, but not all. Some may just require more on-the-job training.
In building a solid résumé, it is helpful to accompany your education with some type of experience that not only validates your education, but compliments it. If there exists only your number of degrees obtained and no work or life experience to back them, employers may overlook you. I know what you’re thinking: “How can I get experience if I can’t get hired?” First, understand that work experience is not the only experience to which I am referring. But let’s consider the following “experience” options:
- Work experience: Any occupation related to the education you received, and more importantly, to the career you are trying to obtain, is a plus. Sometimes this is hard to obtain coming out of college, but at least try to get into the arena of where your career may be located. (See my post on Getting Your Foot in the Door from last month.) Some companies may pay for your educational pursuits because your education can enhance them as well.
- Volunteer experience: So, you cannot find a job in your field. Well, while working elsewhere or not at all, consider the possibility of volunteer work. If you can volunteer in the field of your dream career, that adds value to your résumé because it shows dedication to your craft. It’s a rewarding situation that allows you to contribute to your community and build foundation for your education. You also build relationships and references through networking. Sometimes people find new passions and make a complete career change. Keep an open mind. You may also discover a way to tie your community work with your education, creating your own position.
- Organizational experience: Is there a professional organization associated with your career choice? Like volunteering, this gives insight into how your career operates, can build lasting relationships and references. Sometimes, it’s not what you know, but who you know. So ask yourself: “Who knows me?” Being around other individuals of similar background or similar interest can open your perception about what careers are available within your field.
- Life experience: Adults come with different experiences from different backgrounds. Military experience, experience raising children, experience with computers, etc. can be the skills that gets you an opportunity to work, volunteer, or join an organization. While it cannot give you an advanced degree, it can bring attention and opportunity. From there, other doors will open.
- T. A.