I often get questions from people who want to know if they should go to graduate school. My answer is always the same, "I don't know, should you?" I say this because while education is always awesome, you need to think long and hard about going into debt for something that may or may not help you in your career.
True story: When I was in graduate school, my roommates were all in an English Ph.D. program. One of them had applied to and been accepted by a different university, but along with the acceptance was the caution that the job market stunk, and she should understand that obtaining a Ph.D. in English should be done for personal enlightenment rather than in the hopes of obtaining a better job.
But, what if you could get a master's degree for under $20,000 and do it at your own pace and take a few classes for free to see if it's for you? And if that degree was a master's in Computer Science-Data Science from a top-notch school? Would that appeal to you?
My husband hires data scientists, and I can attest that they make money than my Ph.D. English roommates ever will, even if they got one of those elusive tenure track jobs. It's a great career.
So, how can you do it cheaply and from home?
Enter Coursera. You probably know Coursera because of their MOOCs-massive online open courses. I'm a huge fan of learning and MOOCs are a great way to do that-if it fits your personality. They have now partnered with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for an actual degree.
At $600 per credit hour, it's a pretty affordable way to get a master's degree, but there's another cool thing-you can start for free and take the first few courses to find out if it the program is for you. Because it's online, you can do it in your own time-you don't need to quit your job and move your family.
So, should you enroll in this master's program? Heck, I don't know. Ask yourself the following questions:
Does this help with my career goals?
Some jobs require a master's degree in any subject. Some require master's degrees in a specific subject or group of subjects. If you know where you want to go with your career, look at people who are where you want to be. Do they have graduate degrees? In what? Will this degree help you get there?
Do you have the bandwidth for yet another thing?
Online doesn't mean easy and it doesn't mean it won't take up time. Yes, you can fit it around your schedule (mostly), but you may have to give something else up. If that something else is sleep or your family, it's not worth it.
Do you have the skills to do the work?
This is a real degree and it requires admission to the program. You can take classes without being admitted to test if you can do it, and that's probably a good idea if you don't have a strong background in computers or data. If your undergraduate degree is in underwater basket weaving you might want to take a few stats courses before applying.
Do you want to do this?
This might seem like a ridiculous question, but lots of people enroll in graduate school for the wrong reasons. Reasons I've seen?
- I can't find a real job, so I'll go back to school.
- My job is so boring. I know, grad school!
- My parents really want me to get an advanced degree.
- My boyfriend/girlfriend is going to grad school, so I will too.
- I love school! I'm good at school!
If you are going for any of the above reasons, it's probably not for you. You need to actually want to go to graduate school. You actually need to want the degree. Graduate school is hard and it's not the solution for boredom, unemployment, or impressing your parents. Don't bother spending the time and money to get a degree that you don't intend to use or don't know how you'll use it.