What to Consider When Planning Your Return to Higher Education | TopMBA.com

What to Consider When Planning Your Return to Higher Education

By Avery Phillips

Updated March 21, 2018 Updated March 21, 2018

Making a decision that will affect the rest of your life is incredibly overwhelming, no matter how many times you’ve done it before. Deciding to return to school for graduate study is made even harder by the sheer range of options, with various programs offering different focuses in terms of coursework, internships, field work, or networking opportunities.

Each program comes with a different price tag and time commitment, and the degree you walk away with may vary slightly depending on the institution. So, if you’re considering heading back to school, there are a few considerations you should make before committing to the closest, cheapest, or quickest degree program you can find.

Give yourself adequate time to compare and contrast your options. Part-time online programs offer great flexibility, but you may get a scholarship which requires full-time enrollment to be eligible. It’s at times like this that it can all get a little complicated.

Here are the main factors to consider when trying to find the perfect graduate program for you.

Consider your career goals

If you’re looking to advance your credentials in a specific aspect of business, such as organizational communication or workplace leadership, you’ll want to investigate more than just the business department of the schools you’re considering. Resources in economics, communication, or psychology offer unexpected supplemental work or applicable faculty knowledge.

As you evaluate various programs, you should strongly consider the research and publication backgrounds of the faculty members. At graduate level, classes become much more specific, and having faculty members that are focused in your area of interest will provide a wealth of knowledge, along with potential networking opportunities, that may be invaluable when re-entering the workforce.

Finally, if you’re not 100 percent sure of the track you want to take, look for programs that have multiple focus options or additional certifications available. These programs will be well-rounded and provide latitude to switch among tracks if necessary.

Calculate the cost of study

Once you have your potential programs narrowed down, it’s time to consider cost. While this should be a factor from the beginning, there are plenty of financing options and you shouldn’t let that limit the courses you explore initially.

Many programs offer scholarships that pay for some or all of your schooling. Students returning to schools have their own class of scholarships to explore. Grants are also a possibility and may be obtained through the school or various federal or private programs. If you’ll be writing a thesis or doing research within your program, you’ll have a better chance of obtaining grant money for your education.

In a graduate scenario, if you opt to be a full-time student, you may be eligible for a Graduate Research Assistantship or a Graduate Teaching Assistantship. The latter is more common among MBA programs and allows you to teach lower level general classes within your college in exchange for tuition and a living stipend.

If you plan to continue working while you go back to school, contact the HR department of your company and inquire about tuition repayment options. Some businesses will pay for your graduate school if it’s relevant to the company and you continue working there for a set period of time after program completion.

Finally, if you intend to pay out of pocket but don’t have the capital to do so all at once, loans are available for graduate schooling as well. If you’re attending directly after your undergraduate degree, you may still be required to have a cosigner if you don’t have enough of a credit history built up. Cosigners can always be released at a later date if need be, or you may be qualified to obtain a loan without one.

Make sure to explore all your options before committing to a financial plan that could cost you more money in the long run.

Check the timeline of the program

The duration of a graduate program is another important factor to consider, although it’s hopefully not a limiting variable that will restrict your options.

One of the major facets of graduate school is whether you plan to attend full-time or enter a part-time program and continue working. As many graduate students, especially in MBA programs, are already part of the workforce, night classes and flexible schedules are commonplace.

Having a scholarship or grant offers you the most flexibility with your program selection. Most awards will have some requirements you must meet in order to maintain eligibility, but you’ll often be able to pick from a variety of scheduling options.

If your workload isn’t too intensive, you can keep working part-time to supplement your income. In teaching or research assistantships, instructing classes or helping with research projects will act as your job.

If you intend to pay for school out of pocket, it will be wise to maintain at least part-time employment while you’re in school in order to mitigate your financial deficit. In this case, night or weekend programs will be your best option if you hold a job with traditional workdays and you don’t want to lose sleep over your schoolwork.

For a more flexible schedule, online programs usually allow students to dictate their own “in-school” hours. Limit your course selection to one class per semester (or term) to make sure you don’t overload yourself.

Accelerated programs are an excellent option if you have the luxury of going to school full-time or have enough money saved up to take a brief hiatus from working. These types of programs allow you to focus on school and crank out your courses as quickly as you can handle.

Being enrolled for fewer semesters equates to fewer institutional fees and lowers your overall cost, though accelerated programs occasionally have higher tuition which offsets any savings. You’ll also be able to re-enter the workforce sooner and reap the benefits of your increased salary.

Be picky and considerate in your decision-making

Choosing your graduate school is no small matter. Take your time researching programs — there are a ton of options. Finding the right combination of program focus, schedule, and cost is just a matter of time.

Do thorough research and compare your findings before honing in on a program that’s right for you. There’s no need to settle when selecting the MBA program that’s right for you.

This article was originally published in March 2018 .

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