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Deciding if an advanced degree is right for you

How can you determine if the extra education would be an important career move or an undervalued flop?

Millennials, a generation coming of age in an era dedicated to DIY and computer-supported learning, may be questioning the value of an education. After a major recession changed how staffing decisions are made and the measures skills and experience are judged by, this major part of the population, along with workers across the age spectrum, are revisiting the worth of advanced degrees.

So how can you determine if the extra education would be an important career move or an undervalued flop? Listen to what these career professionals have to say.

Survey the market

Steve Langerud, a workplace consultant and managing partner at Steve Langerud & Associates, LLC, says, “The best way to decide if you really need an advanced degree is to start at the end and work backwards. Ask yourself if, based on research, you need the advanced degree to move ahead or change your career, or if you just want an advanced degree for your own joy and development. Both are legitimate reasons, they are just different.”

A bachelor’s degree will open up plenty of opportunities, but going for a degree more advanced than a bachelor’s will be an investment that you need to consider carefully. “Unlike an undergraduate degree, advanced degrees are most often about getting or advancing in a job,” Langerud says. “If you find yourself saying, ‘I can't get to the next level without this degree,’ then you are a good candidate for an advanced degree. But they can be expensive financially, physically and emotionally. One of the most common mistakes professionals make is mistaking the need for an advanced degree when more training, experience or certification would accomplish the same goal.”

Ask the right questions 

To tell if your future career path requires an advanced degree, Langerud advises clients “to look at roles they find interesting, attractive and desirable. Identify professionals who are currently successfully working in that role and talk to them. Do the people in those roles have advanced degrees? What type of degrees? Where did they get their degrees?” These questions will let you see how applicable a degree actually would be and what kind of return you’d get on your investment.

Other questions to ask, according to Michael Provitera, author of “Mastering Self-Motivation,” are, “‘Will my company pay for my advanced degree?’ [and] ‘What would be the best degree major for me to ascertain?’ Talk to a career specialist or ask people in your profession for advice.”

Include others in the conversation

“If you feel that an MBA or other advanced degree will help your chances of moving into a management position, I suggest running this scenario by your boss,” says Laurie Fiumara, a director at Professional Staffing Group. “Doing so will not only let you know if your boss views you as management material, but will also give you a sense of whether your employer values advanced degrees and whether they may pay for all or some of your education.” Gauging their reaction will help inform your decision and determine if this is a step you can take on your own or is one that would require assistance.

Fiumara goes on to say, “Of course it would be tough to overlook the current economic climate, and that’s certainly another factor to consider. Recently, much attention has been paid to the high costs of college education, and it’s important to consider whether you can handle the expense and, of course, the time commitment that going back to school would require.”

Consider your circumstances

Only you can look at your individual circumstances and determine if an advanced degree is right for you, but making a smart, informed decision that includes plenty of resources and advice can help you make sure you’re heading in the right direction. Provitera says, “The key thing to realize is the experience is the best transferable skill. Building a network and a stream of contacts is key to success in business. However, an advanced degree can never hurt a person; it lets you rub elbows with peers at the graduate level, opens up contacts and places you in a better job pool if you find yourself looking for work.”

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