For a lot of Millennials out of an undergrad program (or perhaps preparing to go back after a summer of freedom), the question of if and when to head back to school for another degree might seem pretty top of mind.
It might appear to be the proper trajectory to advance in your current role, or it might be a course-correct for your career to ensure you can actually be employable in the industry you just discovered you’re passionate about.
But whatever the impetus, it’s an important decision, and not just one that should be contemplated lightly or for the wrong reasons.
Going back to school — whether it be a two-year master's program or a for a medical degree that promises an additional six-plus years of residency — can make or break your current career and have a seriously lasting impact on the rest of your life.
There’s probably a lot of temptations to turn back to schooling. College — before we were financially independent and back when our schedules were determined more on a whim than our companies’ HR departments — was the best four years of our lives. It was familiar.
So when many young professionals hit the inevitable two-year slump out of school, — the how-did-I-get-here and what-am-I-doing-with-my-life existential crisis of our early 20s — it’s natural to look backwards and see a solution in setting foot on yet another campus where we can, for a second time, put off the “real world.”
The decision to get a graduate degree, however, shouldn’t be determined just because you’re sick of your boss, you're over paying rent each month or because Lena Dunham’s “Girls” character is doing it, but because you need a different type of education to help you achieve what you really want in this world.
For me, that experience came when I was overseas, working at a research center in Haifa, Israel. I was writing and editing and studying the unique issues that the Palestinian citizens of Israel — the small but growing population of Arabs who weren’t expelled from their homes and into refugee camps or parts of the West Bank and Gaza following 1948 — face living in a land where they’re now considered an indigenous minority.
The experience was wonderful and eye-opening, but more importantly, it made me uneasy and unhappy with all that I didn’t know and all that I couldn’t do. I decided to go back to school to remedy this, to turn a research inquiry into a more action-oriented endeavor, where hopefully one day I could have the skills — and not to mention the credentials — to actually make a meaningful and lasting impact in a field that’s so important to me.
In reality, the decision of whether a person should pursue a graduate degree after working or perhaps even straight out of college isn’t one that can be broken down into handy “how-to’s.”
This kind of decision, unfortunately, doesn't lend itself to an easily-consumable listicle format. It is exceedingly personal, and therefore, unsurprisingly, different for each person.
For me, it was a natural progression, a slow burn of realizing the path I wanted my life to take, and reluctantly acknowledging the best course of action, therefore, was three grueling years of law school.
For others, it might be a pro-con list, a parent’s insistence, an unwavering knowledge since childhood that this is the right step for them (the last of which I really admire).
The choice to go back to school certainly might not be the best option for everyone.
There’s the cost of education, which is embarrassingly exorbitant in the United States, to consider, whether the time spent out of the workforce will hurt or help future job prospects, how your family or significant other feels about having to handle a new adoption of your old crazy hours (like staying up until 4 am on a Tuesday studying for an exam, but taking off one month over winter break to do absolutely nothing).
But, if all these things are contemplated and getting that graduate degree still seems like the best option, then you’re poised for a very big payoff, both financially and intellectually, in the future.
The ability to pursue further education, to get to know new teachers, to once again join in on extracurriculars instead of professional associations, seems like a really exciting and unique opportunity, especially for those of us with a brief taste of life out in the workforce.
Graduate school won’t be all beer bongs and themed parties, but it is a very special chance to learn again — and not through the experiences of your coworkers or the technical workshops hosted by your employers, but in a classroom, with a professor, who’s helping you get from Point A to Point B.
It's the opportunity to better yourself by re-committing to coursework with a much more established goal in mind.
Will law school hold all that for me? I certainly hope so. Only time will tell, and the answer might very well be “no” (despite mounting student debt and three years of my prime mid-20s over and gone).
But I’m really looking forward to figuring it out for myself. See you out there.
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