The world may call me a professional student and they could be right. I love learning and I love school. Loved it so much I have a Bachelor’s, three Master’s degrees and now a Ph.D. In total, 5 degrees and almost 15 years of graduate school. Does everyone need an advanced degree? No. Did I need 5 degrees? Probably not. But that’s not the point. I set out years ago with a plan and that plan included me having a doctorate. Everyone’s plan is different and your life goals will steer you in various directions. As you read this, remember, always do what is best for you at the time and with the best information you have.
For those looking to seek an advanced degree, let’s start with the basics. You will need to decide what you want that next degree to be in. Is it for career advancement? Is it to move into another career field? Or is it to simply stay competitive in your current market? Once you honestly answer those questions, you can start the process of deciding on what degree you will pursue. I always recommend looking at degrees that will be useful years from now and can also pivot your career choices at any given notice. For example, a Master’s in Business Administration will always be in vogue. You can use business skills, anywhere. Additionally, if you want to move from certain employment sectors, having courses in finance, economics, accounting or management help a lot.
Once you have the degree you want in mind, then it’s time to choose a school. In today’s global world, brick and mortar schools are no longer your only option. Online universities/classes are not only accredited but being offered by some of the top universities in the country. I have degrees from both so my experience has shown me that it’s not the school. It’s the student. You get out what you put in. I enjoyed the physical classroom just as much as the online experience. You decide what you like more and go with it. Many people do not have the time to make it to class given family and life commitments. So online classes allow for flexibility. However, make no mistake, with online classes, there are sharper deadlines, class posting involvements and the expectation of logging on periodically throughout the day/night to be considered “active/attending.”
The workload for classroom versus online will be about the same. Professors in both environments have an obligation to teach you as much as they can with the time they have. So that means, you will have homework, in class assignments and research papers. When I was in a standard classroom, I could expect to spend at least 20-30 hours a week working on school assignments. That number was about the same if not more when I enrolled in an online institution. Each degree had different expectations and the work assigned matched. Before you start, think about your current daily schedule and where you will have to carve out time to get your work completed.
The other thing to think about when wanting to pursue an advanced degree is the cost. Cash rules. And student loans suck. However, for most people, there will be a payment mix to make this happen. If you live in state and the school you want to attend offers in state tuition, I say go for it. Essentially, that will lower your yearly costs and potentially lower the amount you may need to borrow. Online schools do not offer that provision; however, they may offer you credits for classes you’ve taken in undergrad or if you have a previous advanced degree. With my doctorate, given I had an MBA and my PhD was going to be in Management, I transferred credits to classes that mirrored the coursework in the program. By not having to enroll in a few classes, I was able to save a few bucks and time. Just as with bachelor degrees, take out only what you need and borrow wisely. Because, Navient be calling.
Finally, the question I always received from people as I went through school over the years was, how does your social life change? Well, I cannot answer that for everyone but I do know that you will make sacrifices if you want to succeed. In Charlotte, I am very active in the art/cultural community which meant there were times I could not attend events. I had to be home to complete assignments. There were times I wanted to go on vacation and did not. Homework or research papers do not care about your plans. They need to be done. When I finally got to writing my dissertation, there were life challenges and work emergencies. But that did not stop me. You must push through and stick by the commitment to finish. And we all finish in our time. My doctoral program took me 4 years [2 years of coursework, 2 years of dissertation writing] but I have friends and colleagues that are in year 6 of the process. Time will vary and there is no need to compare your time to someone else’s. Just get it done. The sooner you get out, the sooner you can begin to use that new degree and possibly make more money. Because, Navient be calling.
Going back to school for an advanced degree can seem like a daunting task. Take it from me, it is not as hard as it looks. Start your search today and begin the prospect of adding some more letters to your name. Think about it like this, a year will go by and you can either be in school working on your next degree or not. However, that year will still go by. How do you want to spend your year?
Keith Cradle, Ph.D. (@mrcradle/@craftedwithcradle on IG/Twitter)