Posted January 14, 2015 by

New Year’s Resolutions for a Happier Career

Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey, Managing Editor of Peterson’s & EssayEdge

The ball has dropped, the champagne dried up, and it’s time to follow through with the New Year’s resolution you made to your blurry reflection in the bathroom mirror.

If you’re like many people, that resolution has to do with moving forward in post-graduate education. However, you may be conflicted about just how (or even why) to do this. Graduate school is a tempting option when you feel in a rut career-wise, but splash some water on your face and consider: What are your reasons for looking at further academics? Is it in an attempt to prolong the golden years of your college life? And if you are already working on a track that you enjoy, will this mean putting your career on hold? Is it worth it?

Here are a few concepts to use when considering if graduate school is right for you right now:

Turn Around, Bright Eyes

Take a serious look at your chosen profession and see if another degree is necessary for advancement. In many cases it is obvious (doctors and lawyers can expect more school ahead), but with some ambitions it can be more obscure. Some private sector jobs will only slightly reward an accelerated degree, making the added work less valuable.

For example, a friend of mine is an actuary, which requires a great deal of study for qualifying exams. Because he did very well on these exams, he chose not to worry about an MBA and now is a very high-ranking member of the executive pool. In his situation, though it may seem counter-intuitive, an advanced degree would simply have slowed his trajectory (and at his level, they might give him an honorary degree at his alma mater pretty soon).

There are many studies related to the question of education vs. compensation, and you might be surprised at what you find regarding your profession. There may be a comparatively small bump in pay grade for Master’s degrees and even sharp declines for those with Doctorates.

Sweet Dreams Are Made of These

Does your current job (or desired job) mean a significant change from your Bachelor’s degree? Say you graduated with a degree in photography, but because of your wonderful visual sense, you found yourself working in marketing and really enjoying it. So, you consider that because your background is not in marketing, you might have a difficult time advancing your career without further education. Maybe it’s time to take the big step to grad school.

One piece of advice: When writing an application essay for what ostensibly seems like a foray into a new career, avoid this fatal mistake: Do not make excuses for the fact that you come from unique circumstances. Instead, glorify your difference.

Often applicants who apply to graduate school with a new focus try to shy away from the fact that they have taken a more circuitous route. The truth is, diversity is something that universities particularly desire, and someone who has a slightly different perspective has a better chance of being accepted than the person who has taken the road most traveled.

Know When to Hold ‘Em

Consider costs, your personal life, and your motivations. Graduate school is NOT an extension of undergrad. It is not set up to provide you with a comprehensive experience, but rather to welcome exceptionally driven people who are looking for a place to expand on an already established and specific path. If you are still drifting a bit regarding what you want to do, grad school may not be for you (…yet). Afterward, you may find yourself still drifting and loaded with debt.

Speaking of which, tuition can be cripplingly expensive, and those who work part-time while gaining a degree sometimes find themselves overwhelmed. However, if you are currently working, check to see if your employer is interested in helping you financially on your way to further education — you might find they are more open to this idea than you think.

You Gotta Work

Do your research on graduate programs. This means visiting classes and campuses if possible to see what graduate life is like. Most importantly, talk to alums. Alumni who have a positive or negative experience in particular programs love to talk about it. Seek out alumni from your desired area of graduate specialty and get them engaged in conversation. You will definitely receive excellent advice and you might find that you also acquire a solid recommendation letter for your efforts.

They Call Me The Seeker

So you’ve decided to move ahead. What now? Confused as to where to apply? If you can, research the professors who are doing the most interesting work in your chosen field — start there. Networking with like-minded peers is a full one-half of the higher education experience, and in graduate school it is all about who is on your same wavelength. Then focus in on applying to the schools that you most want to attend. Unlike your undergrad experience, it might not be as crucial to have a “safety school.” If you can’t get into the grad school of your choice this year, the better course might be simply to keep working and apply again next year.

Of course the most important thing to know is that everyone’s journey is different. You have to analyze your situation in the stark light of day and decide: Am I ready for this change? If you follow these simple rules to help determine if graduate school is right for you… who knows? By next New Year’s Eve you might be popping champagne over an acceptance letter.

By Ryan Hickey, Managing Editor of Petersons & EssayEdge

About the Author

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson’s & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.

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