There’s a perception out there these days that a lot of people in the so-called millennial generation go back to school in order to delay “real life.” That term, “real life,” has become something of a dirty word among young people (you know, #adulting and all that). It encompasses entry-level jobs, debt, unemployment, an uncertain economy and all kinds of other struggles. School—even graduate programs with expensive tuition rates—can feel like something of a safe haven. It’s a place to continue to hone your personal and professional skills before gritting your teeth and diving into, well, the “real world.”
And here’s the truth: There’s both validity and mistruths to this perspective. Some will argue that millennials need to grow up and face the difficulties of professional life. Others would suggest that going back to school is perfectly natural and beneficial. Even if it’s to hide from the world for a few more years, more education might lead to good results.
The decision to enter (or re-enter) graduate school is a case-by-case issue, and the potential benefits of grad school are different for every individual who considers it. Here are some of the major points you ought to consider before you apply.
The Debt Is Real.
The temptation among a lot of prospective students is to worry about admission first and tuition later. We constantly hear about people who are paying off student loans for years, and while that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, it does give the impression that you can always work out the tuition. You may be tempted to assume everything on that front will turn out okay, and it might.
It’s important to know what you’re getting into. An article quoting a study by the Wall Street Journal states that the average graduate debt for a student’s career is just over $40,000. And that’s the average, meaning it takes into account the very cheapest programs and the students who were able to pay off most of their tuition early on. Most people who go to graduate school are going to be making payments long after they graduate. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it, but it does mean it’s something you should consider before taking it on. It might impact your ability to purchase a home or start a family if you’re making $400 payments each month on interest alone.
You May Regain Perspective.
There are benefits to graduate school classes, but for a lot of students, it’s the actual act of applying for and attending a program that proves most valuable. It can help to refocus you as a student in the pursuit of specific goals or a particular career. A former business school student spoke about this in a testimonial at an application coaching platform, where he explained that the process of applying allowed him to make sense of his previous experiences and how they were connected to each other and to his ongoing pursuits. This comment reflects the thought process a lot of people have when going back to school. They remember what they’ve studied, where their true interests and talents were, and what they hoped to do with them. In this sense, graduate school can help you to find yourself as much as it can educate you.
It’s important to approach graduate school with a clear idea of what you’re likely to get out of it. Those applying to medical or business school are chasing very specific access points to future careers, while those applying for something like an MFA might be hoping for connections and publishing opportunities more than a benefit stemming obtaining the actual degree. It’s important not just to research the program you’re interested in, but where it’s likely to lead you and how. After all, if it doesn’t make sense for your future goals, what makes the financial investment and time worth it?
There are a ton of justifications for pursuing graduate school to escape real life but ultimately “real life” awaits. Graduate school can help you discover who you are, give you an increase in opportunities and help you get closer to your dreams.
Just make sure you’re going back for the right reasons.