With more than 20 years of experience working in graduate business and leadership programs designed for working professionals, Dee Masiello, former assistant dean of academic and faculty affairs at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies, knows what it takes for working professionals to be successful when going back to school.
Here are five tips she has for adult learners who are unsure if they can fit going back to school into their already jam-packed lives:
1. Get input from the important people in your life.
Heading back to school to finish or pursue a degree will change how you spend your time and what activities you can commit to.
“Take the time to talk with everyone who’s important in your life to work out a plan and set expectations,” says Masiello. “Their lives will be impacted by this decision too, so give them a chance to voice concerns and set some guidelines—but also to get excited with you about the journey you’re about to undertake.”
2. View going back to school as a strategic, long-term investment.
Obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree may not raise your salary immediately, but over time you are likely to see a financial return on your investment in education. In addition to a financial return, students can benefit from learning new skills, networking, and getting on a fresh career trajectory.
“You may not see an immediate return,” says Masiello. “But it will come—and in more ways than you can imagine.”
3. Build on your strengths.
Many working professionals are reluctant to head back to school because, as experts in their field, they feel that becoming a student again might expose what they don’t know. But Masiello looks at this quite differently:
“Going back to school will actually build on your strengths,” she says. “The classroom is a safe environment to challenge what you think you know and build confidence. Remember: making mistakes and learning from them is still acceptable as an adult.”
4. Take advantage of online learning.
Masiello encourages adults considering a degree to try online classes, a learning format that may not have been available when they first went to school.
“I often hear that working adults are reluctant to try online classes,” says Masiello. “But they allow a lot of flexibility for those juggling a career and family since they let working professionals do coursework when it’s convenient for them. They also provide opportunities to interact with and learn from classmates from all over the world.”
5. Enjoy the ride.
Going back to school can be a big time and financial commitment, but along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with professors who have real-world industry knowledge that will provide valuable insight to you in your day- job. Your classmates might be working in a position similar to yours and have advice about and solutions to challenges you encounter in your industry. Plus you’ll learn new skills and become an expert in topics that you weren’t as knowledgeable in when you began the program.
“Getting an advanced degree will set the stage for your professional advancement,” says Masiello, “but it’s also a great adventure. Find ways to enjoy it every step of the way.”
If you’re considering going to grad school, be sure to check out more articles on our grad school tips and advice page for helpful information throughout the application process.