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5 Myths About Returning to Graduate School for an Unrelated Degree - Debunked

By Lana Whitehead on September 26, 2019

Graduate School Resources


It’s 4 p.m. on a Wednesday and you have been glancing at the clock methodically every half-hour since your lunch break, wondering if you can sign off and go home. It’s not the people — you like your boss and your co-workers are great — it’s the job.

Perhaps you were interested in this career right out of undergrad, or maybe it was your first job offer as you searched for employment in during your last semester of college. At the time, your present career seemed like everything you wanted, an exciting opportunity to grow professionally and put your skills to work.

After working in the field for a number of years, possibly for a few different employers, it's become clear that this profession is not for you.

You have two options — trudge through the next several decades until you can retire, or make a career change.

Planning to make a change in your professional life this year? Click here to  download The Career Changer's Guide to Graduate School!

A career change may be the better option (no one should be unhappy for decades), but that will require new skills and in most cases, additional education. Ideally, you would love to go back to graduate school, start fresh, and educate that passion of yours, but graduate school is only for those young 20 somethings with no kids, no full time job, and limited responsibilities, right?

Not true! As you explore the possibility of grad school and confront your fears and hesitations, here are five myths about going back to graduate school you should cast aside.

Myth #1: “There is no point in going back to graduate school now that I am a certain age.”

Today, the average graduate student is 33 years old, and 22 percent of graduate students are 40 years or older. Concerns about age are a common stumbling block for those looking to return to graduate school, but think of it this way - you can either spend the next three years in a job you don’t like, or you can do something about it and know that soon you will have the experience and education necessary to make a permanent change for more happiness and personal fulfillment.

If you find yourself thinking “yeah, but I will be how old when I get out?” remember that you will be that same age whether or not you go to grad school and if you don’t return to school, you may waste those years in a career you don't enjoy. You might as well go for it – you have nothing to lose and so much to gain.

Read these inspiring testimonials of students who went back to school after age 35.

Myth #2: “I can’t go to graduate school and keep a full-time job.”

Although it would be easiest to quit your job and return to school full time, giving it your entire attention, that's usually not a feasible option. With families to support, mortgages to pay and now tuition, work is a necessity even while attending school.

According to a Georgetown University study, approximately 75 percent of graduate students worked 30 hours or more per week. So how do you balance school and work? Prioritize planning, preparation and time management; find a good way to let your employer and co-workers know that you are enrolling in classes; research financial aid and online or hybrid class options; find ways to work smart; and try to take care of yourself.

Myth #3: “Graduate school is a financial setback, and I won’t be able to recover.”

Yes, graduate school comes with a cost, but data shows us that it is really more of an investment in your future than a financial burden. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, in a 2016 study, the median annual income for employed persons with a bachelor's degree was $59,124, while those with a master’s degree made $69,732.

With an annual $10,000 difference on average, the data indicates that the degree pays for itself within a few years – a small price to pay to make a move to a more fulfilling career.

Myth #4: “I don’t have an undergraduate degree that is related to my desired master’s degree.”

As a college freshman, the pressure of choosing the right undergraduate degree can seem overwhelming — as if the future of your professional career depends on this one choice.

Fortunately, research suggests that the decision you made as a stressed 18-year-old doesn’t have significant bearing on your career or your ability to return to graduate school to pursue an unrelated degree. In fact, according to a study done by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, only 27 percent of workers with a college degree were employed in fields closely related to their major.

So, don’t let the history degree, which seemed like the perfect decision at the time, hold you back from returning for your M.B.A or M.S. in health informatics.

When applying to graduate school programs, don’t worry if your undergraduate degree is not an obvious transition into your new area of study. Often, graduate schools are more interested in how you will add to the program — your passion, work ethic, related soft skills and relevant work experience. Make sure to highlight these areas when applying.

Myth #5: “Completing a graduate program will take a long time and delay my career change even further.”

The longer you put off returning to school, the more hesitation and fear will accumulate as you think about the decision. There will always be something that makes it "not the right time” to return. But holding off on graduate school for fear it will delay your career change will only extend the time needed to make that career transition.

When you decide to make a jump from one field to an unrelated area, you need the education, skills and credibility that a graduate degree offers. Attempting to begin a new career field without graduate school can stagnate your career and reduce the potential for promotions and increased income.

Additionally, as the cost of graduate school increases, it makes the most financial sense to return as early as possible. Each year that you don’t return for a master’s represents a missed potential opportunity for an increase in earned income. There is no better time than the present!

Returning to graduate school in the middle of your career can be challenging, but many find that the reward outweighs the cost. Don’t let misconceptions or false information keep you from taking the next steps toward a career that you are passionate and excited about!

If you are considering grad school because you want to change careers, you are not alone! Check out our resource for more information and tips on how to make your career transition today — The Career Changer's Guide to Graduate School.

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Lana Whitehead
Written by Lana Whitehead

Lana Whitehead is the Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies and the Director of Graduate Admission at Kent State University. Lana attended Northwestern University and enjoyed a consulting career in Chicago before becoming a stay-at-home mom of six children. After earning her master’s degree from Youngstown State University, Lana embarked on a career in higher education. Lana has held positions in academic support, advising, student services and enrollment management. In her free time, Lana enjoys landscaping, gardening and spending time with family.

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Lana Whitehead on September 26, 2019

It’s 4 p.m. on a Wednesday and you have been glancing at the clock methodically every half-hour since your lunch break, wondering if you can sign off and go home. It’s not the people — you like...

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