Ready for Grad School?

Are You Ready to Go Back to Graduate School? Tips for Adult Students.

Betty Vandenbosch, PhD, Chancellor of Purdue University Global

The traditional path through college is to complete a four-year degree following high school and land a full-time job soon after graduation, but that may not garner the career you want. An advanced degree may be necessary to get to the next level. And, women are making that decision more often than men. In 2017, 59 percent of graduate degrees and 50 percent of law degrees were conferred on women. Nevertheless, making the decision to go back to school is a big one. You need to decide if it’s worth it, personally and professionally. In other words, will it help you reach your goals and can you afford it?

According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, graduate degrees increase annual earnings by more than 25 percent, but not necessarily right away. A graduate degree is not an automatic ticket to an immediate six-figure salary. Reading stories about the success or failure that this or that person experienced doesn’t help. That person’s situation is not yours. It is important to take stock of your circumstances, your unique experiences and your inner motivation to determine whether or not you should go back to school — and if now is the right time. It is also important to find the right institution, one that appreciates you: your needs, what you have already accomplished and the best way forward to fit your personal situation. There are several things to consider to ensure you are going down the right path to get the most out of your experience.

Set your goals. People who have clear goals are more successful than those who want to spend the shortest time possible to earn a credential. For example, you should go to law school because you are passionate about helping people — not to get rich, to ride out a bad economy or because you’re not sure what else to do. If you can, talk to friends or family members who have the graduate degree you are considering to learn about what they really do and how satisfied they are. If you are studying an area that truly interests you, it will be much easier to learn. If you are studying things that are immediately applicable to your work, then learning is likely to come easier to you as well.

Betty Vandenbosch, PhD, Chancellor of Purdue University Global

Determine the learning path that’s best for you. There are three options for studying at graduate school: face to face on campus, online using a computer or mobile device or a combination of both. You can also attend school full or part time. Don’t be intimidated by going to school online, especially if you haven’t experienced it yet. And, don’t believe the hype that studying online is easier. I promise you it isn’t. However, what online doesn’t do is favor the person who always had their hand up in undergrad. Online favors women, who like to prepare carefully before they answer a question. At a minimum, your time is probably much more constrained today than it was when you attended undergrad. Be sure to consider all options before you choose.

Don’t waste time taking courses about material you already know. You may be unsure about going back to school because you already know some or even most of the material covered in the coursework and believe you might not have much to learn — that you are only doing it for the credential. Wasting time you don’t have will not inspire you to succeed at school. Look into taking challenge exams to earn credit for courses that cover material you already know. Many people shy away from these exams because of a fear of failure. Isn’t it better to identify what you know and what you need to learn? Remember, paying only to learn what you do not already know is the shortest and lowest-cost path to the credential you are working toward.

Consider more than rankings. For example, U.S. News & World Report rankings are broadly reflective of a school’s prestige and quality, but they may not reflect which schools provide the best value for you. A school that isn’t as highly ranked might have strong programs in certain specialty areas you may be interested in such as cybersecurity or environmental law. You should choose the school that’s best for you given your budget, life circumstances and personal and professional goals, not the one that’s considered the “best” in some generic sense. Make sure to have a conversation with the school’s admissions department about rankings and other details that are important to you.

Determine how to afford it. Plan for the costs associated with the school you choose and explore all avenues for funding: your employer and scholarships, as well as savings and state and federal aid. Research the average debt load of the school’s graduates and compare that to their typical salaries. A conversation with your employer could identify cost-saving opportunities through partnerships with universities or education programs. You don’t want to get partway through and run out of funding.

Find the time. Success in graduate school, as in any other part of your life, requires knowing how to make the best use of the time you have available. Going to school is an enormous commitment and studying at the graduate level requires many hours each week. Not only will you be dedicating much of your free time to your goals, but your support system will be giving up time as well. You may need to forgo some of your leisure activities, and your family members may need to take on some of the household tasks that you will not have as much time for. Talking with your boss about pursuing a graduate degree may help you obtain additional support and possibly some flexibility.

So, should you go back to school? Only you can answer that question. The benefits are clear and there will be sacrifices. The considerations are not gender specific when pursuing a graduate degree. If you choose your institution based on your needs, it will lead you to success and will not be what you experienced when you were eighteen. Nor are you the person you were then. You know more, you’re more focused and you know why you’re there.

Purdue Alumni Association members are eligible for a tuition reduction to study at Purdue University Global. For more information on Purdue Global programs, visit:

About Dr. Betty Vandenbosch
Betty Vandenbosch, PhD, is chancellor of Purdue University Global, which is the institution resulting from Purdue University’s 2018 acquisition of Kaplan University. An award-winning educator and academic, Dr. Vandenbosch brings more than 25 years of academic leadership, management, research, and teaching experience to this role.

Dr. Vandenbosch served in a number of leadership positions at Kaplan University prior to the acquisition including, most recently, president. She was instrumental in the development of the University’s competency-based education model and oversaw the creation of more than 25 new programs. In addition, she oversaw the growth of Kaplan University’s career services capabilities, faculty development across the University, the use of learning science across the curriculum, and a robust process for randomized control testing of new learning and support approaches.

Previously, at Case Western Reserve University, Dr. Vandenbosch served as the associate dean of executive education and external relations at the Weatherhead School of Management. She filled several academic and leadership roles including teaching, curriculum development, and management of Weatherhead’s executive education programs. Dr. Vandenbosch has won several teaching awards and research awards from the Academy of Management, the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada, and the International Conference on Information Systems.
Dr. Vandenbosch earned her PhD in Management Information Systems, MBA, and Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada.