When should I get my next degree?

May 2, 2019

Timing is often a critical factor in moving beyond the bachelor’s degree.

Pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree involves a significant commitment of time and no small amount of passion. It’s a decision not to be taken lightly, and you’ll want conditions to be optimal when you do decide to jump back into a degree program.

What should you examine in terms of timing? These tips from Capella University experts highlight some of the essential considerations.

1. When did you finish your last degree?

Some people feel they need a break after completing a bachelor’s or a master’s. Perhaps a month, year, or more. Additionally, for some people, there may be great value in getting some on the job training before getting additional education: Learning is often best when shaped by workplace experiences.  “It’s the degree level that gets you in the door, beyond that it’s your experience that gets you the job,” says Curtis Brant, associate vice president of doctoral affairs.

“I’d recommend you continue straight through if you’re certain you want that next degree. You’ve got momentum built up. You have a store of knowledge after you’ve finished your first degree, and if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it,” Brant says. It’s challenging in many ways to return to school, he says, if you’ve taken a long break.

2. How old are you now?

You’re never too old to learn. But if the idea of embarking on a lengthy degree program gives you pause because you fear you’ll spend the best years of your life with your nose to the grindstone, consider the alternative, says Sharon Balke, manager of Capella’s Career Center. “People say, ‘By the time I finish I’m going to be 40 or 45!’ And I say, as gently as I can, ‘Well you’re going to be 40 or 45 anyway. Do you want to be that age with a degree or without a degree?’” Putting it off may only make you regret that you didn’t do it sooner when you do finally get around to enrolling in a degree program.

3. Are you advancing your career or changing it?

If you intend to jump tracks and move into a new field, you might want to set aside your educational aspirations—for the moment. “If you’re a career changer, it might make sense for you to step out of the academic environment and get some experience in the field you’re looking to move into,” Balke says. ”I would definitely recommend that people get some experience if they’re making a career change. The degree alone is not the golden ticket to success.” Once you’ve gotten some experience under your belt, returning to school will also be a much richer experience—you’ll have some real-life examples that align with the concepts you’re learning.

If you’re advancing your career, there’s nothing wrong with powering through to your next degree. Moving straight from a master’s to a doctoral degree will help you wrap things up and get down to applying your education in a work environment sooner than if you decide to take time off.

4. Do you have sufficient motivation?

“When you go for an advanced degree, you’re running a marathon,” Balke says.” You need to be ready and in shape for the marathon.” And you’ll need a lot of motivational stamina to succeed, she adds.

Because graduate studies are intense, it’s vital that you’re certain you’ve chosen a topic that will sustain your interest over the long haul. Consider what engages you in the news, in conversation, and even in entertainment. The things that hold your interest are likely to be sustainable as fields of academic study as well. And because advanced-degree studies are often both rigorous and solitary, you’ll want to be sure you have deep abiding interests in your topic of study.

“You really need to choose something that you’re excited about,” Balke advises. “That may be a continuation of your studies in the field, or that may be a course or topic you encountered in your undergrad experience that got you excited but you weren’t able to pursue it in the way you wanted.”

The Career Center’s mission is to empower students and alumni to proactively manage their careers and make meaningful, and effective, career decisions.

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