Career Advice

Furthering Your Education: How To Weigh Grad School Vs. When A Certificate Is Enough

In this competitive job market, the need to further your education might as well be in your job description.

Decision-making is tough, no matter what stage you are at in your career. Choosing the best and most beneficial option is crucial, as time and money are both valuable assets. When choosing between a graduate program or a hybrid certificate training program, you can weigh your options with the following guide:

Examine your motives.

Is your current level of education not competitive enough in your industry?  Some industries require more education than your standard bachelor’s degree to land even an entry-level job. In these cases, continuing your education is a no-brainer. You should be aware of the educational backgrounds of your colleagues to know where you stand.

Do you want to stay marketable? If you are a planner and always ahead of the game, completing certification programs throughout the course of your career is a great way to keep your skills sharp and your brand reputable. Investing in your career with cost-efficient certification programs may be more suitable for your budget than a graduate degree. Furthermore, adding training programs and earned certificates to your resume proves your dedication and enthusiasm to be the best you can be in your field.

Do you want a pay raise? It is absolutely necessary to investigate your options and your industry requirements. Depending on the field, both may lead to more money – or the same paycheck you are accustomed to. If you are in the biology and life sciences field, a recent study showed a 70 percent pay increase with a grad degree as opposed to a bachelor’s degree. A graduate degree in journalism may only account for a 19 percent pay raise. As far as certificates, if you don’t have the time, money, or inclination to opt for a more traditional graduate degree, a recent study found certificates give a 20 percent boost in earnings in certain fields.

Are you considering a career change? If you are looking to make a career change and feel as though you need to go back to school, be sure you do your research. It is not uncommon to land a job completely unrelated to your major.

Define your purpose.

Your purpose should be about YOU. Nix any pressures from family and your peers when deciding the most beneficial way to further your education. There are mixed arguments about whether investing in grad school is worth it or not, but Reid Linn, Dean of the James Madison Graduate School, said it best, “I am unaware of any study that has ever proven that more education and more guided practice and direct experience has hurt anyone or negatively impacted someone’s life over a lifetime.”

As stated before, there are some industries that require a higher level of education, even for entry-level positions. But if you are utilizing grad school as a crystal ball foretelling your future because you are unsure of your next steps – you may want to reconsider. Grad school is costly, but can be well worth your dollar if used appropriately.

Consider your obligations.

Spending time to further your education, regardless of the means, is a huge time commitment. To save yourself from taking on an impossible workload, make sure you consider your current responsibilities. Squeezing a grad program into an already jam-packed life can make the experience extremely off-putting. Alternatively, certificate programs range in duration, some only lasting a weekend.

Also, consider your monetary obligations. It is oftentimes suggested to move on to grad school immediately after earning your bachelor’s degree because it is an easy transition to head right back into the classroom. For other industries, once you have been working for a couple of years, employers may pay for your schooling in a graduate program.

Take the time to look at the overall and long-term payoff of investing in continued education. Furthering your education will be a staple in your career. But remember your options before choosing your route.

How have you furthered your education to accelerate your career? Share your story and thoughts below.