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With application deadlines quickly approaching, you may be debating about whether to go back to school. Between considering the financial implications of college or graduate school tuition and the career benefits you hope to reap, this decision depends entirely on your personal situation. It’s important to consider the reasons you want to return to school and how you can make it happen.

Research Carefully

If you are considering returning to school, you can turn to trusted resources nearby. It’s a good idea to get some advice from a mentor about how continuing your education can contribute to you career. You can also talk to your friends, colleagues or family members who have already gone back to school to get a better idea about what to expect and what mistakes to avoid.

When you have found programs you are interested in that suit your needs, reach out to program faculty and not just admissions advisers for more detailed information. Ask to see a sample course syllabus to get a sense of the quality of the course and the expectations of the program, including time commitment and whether you can hold a part- or full-time job while taking classes. Other things to ask about include faculty interaction, thesis requirements (if any for master’s programs), online classes and the jobs past graduates have gone on to hold.

Fund Affordably

Preparing your personal finances for graduate school can be a tricky and time-consuming procedure to maneuver. You can fill out FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to see if you qualify for financial aid (some schools require this to be considered for scholarship opportunities as well) and reach out to different school’s financial aid offices. It’s a good idea to also look into grant options as well as local and national scholarships — you might be surprised how many of these programs you can qualify for. Research the types of student loan programs you can access. If you have good credit, private student loans may be less expensive than some federal options. (You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.)

If you plan to keep your current job while furthering your education, you could consider a distance-learning program or night and weekend classes, so you do not lose your current income while spending on your education. Your company may even offer tuition reimbursements to ensure they get a smarter, more skilled employee.

Plan Strategically

Even if you have found the perfect program and feel you are able to fund your education without breaking the bank, it is important to consider if this is the right time in your life for you to go back to school. You must have the time to go to class, read and study to get the most out of any degree you decide on. For example, if you make sure your family and friends are on board before you apply, then you’ll have the support you need once classes start. Consider the things you might have to give up in order to devote yourself to your studies to decide if you are truly ready.

Returning to graduate school can be a wonderful opportunity to further your career and personal growth, but it’s important to properly assess the factors before committing. If you decide graduate school is right for you, application season is upon us, so get moving!

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