When you feel uncertain about the next chapter of your career, heading back to school can be a tempting choice. (Take it from this woman, who holds not one, but two PhDs, a law degree, and quite a few other training program credentials, to boot.)
“Just one more degree…” that little voice inside, whispers. “Then you’ll be unstoppable!”
I’m a huge believer in the power of higher education, but it’s a good idea to check your motivations before investing thousands of dollars and years of your life into another program.
On that note, here are five questions to ask yourself to make sure you’re enrolling for the right reasons.
1. Do I Know Where This is Going?
If you have a clear career plan, and you’re getting another degree because it will carry you precisely where you want to go—bravo!
But if you’re feeling lost and adrift, with no clear plan, enrolling in grad school is an awfully expensive way to “figure things out.”
Your money might be better spent working with a career coach—even just for one or two sessions—before diving head first into a pricey, demanding program.
2. Am I Genuinely Excited About This Program? (Like, Really, Really Excited?)
As you read the descriptions of the classes you’re going to take and the career profiles of the program’s alumni, you should feel a rush of excitement. If you’re not amped up now—before all of the hard work begins—you’re definitely not going to be excited about the program a year from now, when you’re up to your eyeballs in papers and final exams.
If you’re not enthusiastic, then it’s either not the right choice—or not the right program.
3. Am I Chasing External Validation?
Receiving praise is always delightful—especially when it comes in the form of a shiny new degree. But if you feel like you’re a bottomless pit when it comes to external validation, something’s out of balance.
If you enroll in a program, do it for you. Because it’s a field that you want to study. Not to have another diploma or line on your resume. Not to impress your parents, your partner, your friends, or future hiring managers.
Their validation—no matter how loud and frequent—will never make you happy in any kind of lasting way. That type of gratification will always be temporary. Real happiness comes from within.
4. Am I Trying to Run Away From Myself?
If you’re unhappy with your life—caught up in unhealthy habits like overcommitting, overeating, or overworking, or feeling burdened by fear and self-doubt—I have some bad news: Those habits with probably come right with you, into school.
We can’t run from ourselves—and a new degree won’t heal our unhealthy habits.
If, on the other hand, you feel pretty good about yourself (“I like who I am, even if my career isn’t exactly where I’d like it to be”), then going to school could be a smart move.
5. Is This a Temporary Impulse?
If you’ve just experienced a major shake-up—like getting fired or getting dumped—you might still be in a period of grief and shock. You might also have lots of bottled-up emotions that you don’t want to face. (Distracting yourself with a new big goal is so much easier!)
But try not to make any hasty decisions. Instead, work through your emotions and get back to a space where you feel more like “yourself.”
Take some time to let the dust settle.
If going back to school is truly the right choice for you, it will still feel like the right choice two weeks—or even two months—from today.
If you do choose to go back to school? Hip hip hooray! I wish you all the best with your studies—and your supercharged career.
And if you don’t? That’s great news, too. Because—I promise—there’s another best next step.