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Thinking About Going Back to School?

Considering a bachelor’s or master’s degree as part of your professional development plan? Keep these factors in mind if full-time work and full-time learning may be in your future.

1. Timing

There’s no time like the present. The earlier in your career you can complete an advanced degree, the better. In government, we often see those in positions of greater authority offered the most professional development opportunities – a nonsensical arrangement. Don’t wait for the promotion to think about a degree program. The next job up the ladder comes with more responsibilities and if you’re moving into a supervisory position, it is more emotional work, as well. Working on a degree at night or on the weekends becomes more difficult as you advance. Start early.

2. Type of School and Cost

What’s your goal? If you need a degree (or another degree) to meet the qualifications of your dream job, will the institution’s name really matter? Whether you’re paying out of pocket or work is footing the bill, consider the schools to which you’ll apply carefully. Private institutions’ cost per credit hour may not merit the hefty price tag if you simply need the credential. However, certain colleges’ programs bring prestige and networking opportunities, making a higher price worth it. Also consider the worth of the degree outside government employment if you think your future career plans include a shift to the private sector, even if that private-sector job still supports the government. Private companies view educational opportunities in a completely different way.

3. Support

Will you have the support you need at home and at work? Communicate your needs as directly as possible to your peers, your supervisor and your family.

Work, home and school priorities clash. Ensuring your network understands what pressures you have and how you can pick up additional workload when you can, anticipating the need for others to do the same for you is critical.

4. Probability of Advancement

Does a degree make you a better candidate for the next job up in your organization? Or does it simply make you a more well-rounded candidate, in general? If you think your path to advancement lies outside your current agency or department, understand what networking opportunities your chosen college offers to ensure it meets your needs. Do the leaders in your office all have a similar degree? Look to their bios to provide guidance on what your organization values.

5. Impact on your health

Often, the physical and mental health implications of career and developmental opportunities remain hidden until problems arise. Consider carefully how academic work impacts your mental and physical health. Sleep, exercise and mindfulness all easily take a backseat to deadlines and projects if you don’t prioritize well-being.

Finally, advocate for yourself. While your employer might offer information, finding the right program and doing the work falls only on your shoulders. Exploration of educational opportunities offered by your employer, understanding the time commitments associated with taking advantage of them, and creating your career roadmap are all your responsibilities. Ultimately, no one cares more about your career and your education than you.

Love Rutledge hosts the FedUpward Podcast (FedUpward.com), a show for feds to find tips and strategies to navigate everyday problems. She has 20 years of government service, a master’s in public administration from The George Washington University and a master’s of science in defense resource management from The Eisenhower School at the National Defense University. She’s also a wife, and mother of two preschoolers. Opinions expressed are hers and not those of the government.

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