Back to school MBA

Back to school MBA (November 5, 2013)

Before you pull the old backpack out of the closet and plan your return to school, consider everything that comes with a return to higher learning. A master's degree is a serious commitment and a sacrifice of both time and money. And for many, a real boost to their careers.

“Going back to school can absolutely put a charge into people,” says career adviser Donald Young. “It can bring them a new group of peers, open them up to new ideas that will ultimately give them fresh perspectives on their jobs and can even give them motivation to work harder to get ahead. It can be a real kick in the pants.”

But Young warns that it can also be a real chore.

“Think about the things you’ll have to give up, which, if you have children, is most likely sleep,” Young says. “You’ll have to find ways to stay motivated and, let’s be honest, awake.”

Rhonda Lindbergh, mother of three, knows exactly what Young is talking about.

“I went back for a master’s in curriculum and instruction about three months after my third daughter was born,” says the San Diego resident who was a full-time teacher while taking classes in the evening and on weekends. “I was exhausted. I can honestly remember days when I fell asleep at the kitchen table with a spoon in my hand.”

Lindbergh says she was lucky to have her mother-in-law on hand most days, which allowed her to hand the kids over at a certain point and get back to studying.

“It’s very difficult to do without the right support system,” Lindbergh says. “You can do it, but you have to realize you can’t do everything and you’ll have to learn to live with a little parental guilt.”

When to go

There is one good reason to go back to school as soon as possible: It won't be any easier as you get older. People who have been out in the real world go back to grad school all the time, but not without making sacrifices. You should go back when you have the least to give up, if you can.

Still, if you’ve recently complete college, there are some drawbacks to jumping right back in. Many business programs will not accept students without work experience. You're likely to find that most schools actually suggest whetting your whistle in the workplace for at least a year prior to returning for an advanced degree. Talk to admissions advisors and see what each school requires and suggests.

And know what to expect. If you’re a recent graduate, after busting your hump for four years as an undergrad, you're now about to find yourself taking on an even bigger challenge. Teachers demand a lot of work from their grad students. If you can't deliver, don't expect to stay around too long. Gone are the days of that occasional afternoon class--which you probably missed half the time anyway. Your graduate schedule will be packed with class time, meetings, and study sessions.

“There’s a misconception that graduate school picks up right where you undergrad left off,” says Young. “That’s not the case. There are plenty of students who do undergraduate work their first semester and can’t understand why they went from being an A student to a C student. You have to step up your game.”