An advanced degree might be what you need to get ahead in your career. However, you may fall into the wrong path of going for a an advanced degree program for the wrong reason. Just because everyone is doing an MBA does not mean you should do it too. Sometimes, people decide to go for a masters program when they can’t find a job (or a job they love). Making a decision on whether you should go for an advanced degree can be hard. The following guide will take you through what you need to do before, during and after your advanced degree program.
Before Grad school…
The first step is figuring out if a masters is important to your career at that stage. Perhaps you want to be lecturer and getting a masters degree is the next logical reason. The reasons why you want a masters at your career level should be rational and logical. Rational reasons could include:
- Gaining professional connections. Unless you are targeting to go to a top degree program where the alumni network is strong, you might be better off growing your profession in the old fashioned way.
- Expanding your subject-specific knowledge. If you are in a highly technical field, it might be paramount for you to pursue further studies.
- Differentiating yourself from the competition. There are other ways you can differentiate yourself apart from pursuing an advanced degree. You could instead focus on building a stellar personal brand.
It is important to seat with a friend to go through this list so that you can decide whether your reasons are actually valid. It is easy to make an irrational decision but a level headed person can help you clarify your motivations.
You should also consider the disadvantages that come with furthering your studies. Going for an advanced degree program will cost you lots of money. In addition, you will also need to consider the time it will take. There will be an opportunity cost of salary lost if you are leaving your job and won’t be earning a salary during that time. In addition, always remember that experience beats anything. As you pursue an advanced program, there will be a theory-practice gap which only practical work experience can cover.
After you have decided that a masters is important to you, the next step is setting some goals which you should never lose sight of during the length of your advanced degree program. Your goals might touch on the below
- Where you want to work after. Perhaps you want to start your own business or you want to work with a particular employer.
- The people with whom you want to network. You might be interested in recruiters, investors (if you want to start your own business),
- What you want out of your grad school experience.
Part of making sure that you achieve all that you set out to do is being aware of what it is.
During Grad School…
Keep track of your goals that you highlighted before you started your advanced degree program. In addition, do the following:
Pick your specialism
All grad programs give you a chance to specialize whether immediately in your program or further along. Which ever way, you will eventually have to pick your area of specialism. The earlier you pick it, the better it is for you. This is because you will be able to focus all course works, projects, networking and even job searching on this area. As you can see, these are all important areas. When you choose earlier, you will be better positioned to meet the goals you set out to achieve before your degree program.
It is invaluable to leverage your dissertation, course work (and) or practical project to build your job search project (more of that later). All your efforts should be targeted on making accomplishments that you can include on your CV. (For example) “In my project on water technology, I worked on a team of five to develop a solution for how developed countries can improve water management.” Align all your work to show how you can add value to a potential employer.
Grades are not everything but having good grades has never hurt anyone. Your aim should be to do your best work ever but also keep a balanced profile. You don’t want to focus all your time on getting good grades and in the process blowing your chances of enjoying all the different experiences that pursing an advanced program has to offer.
Do not neglect your job search until up to the end of your advanced degree program. Start at least 6 months before you graduate to give you ample time to find the position you want. Some of the motions involved in your job search are subtle so you might find that you already started doing them.
Focus on building an epic job search brand, rewrite your linkedin profile, rewrite your CV to give a compelling value preposition. Build your thought leadership through blogging on linkendin or a personal blog. If you are planning to go into entrepreneurship, you could start working on your project during this time. Some tasks like market research and developing a product can be done while at school.
After grad school…
After you have graduated from your advanced degree program using the steps above. The next thing is to consider how to make the most of your time after graduate school:
- Assess your reasons and career goals. If there are areas where you identified gaps, plan on how you will close these. Perhaps you did not build professional relationships, then you might have to plan how you will make the for this. You could make the most of the alumni network for example. Hopefully, you will have achieved most of your goals.
- Career development. You will now need to learn the tools and resources you need to further your career by understanding how you will grow professionally.
- Give back. There are lots of ways you can give back. You could do this by offering to speak, coaching and mentoring students, etc. Do not just move on from grad school never to return.
With this guide, I hope your decision to pursue an advanced degree program will be much easier than before.