Undergraduate and graduate studies are very different beasts. Graduate programs often require a huge investment of your time and money, so before you take the plunge and go back to school full-time or sign up for a part-time continuing education program, you should ask a few questions of yourself and those who will embark on this journey with you.

1. IS NOW THE RIGHT TIME?

There are a lot of factors that have to be carefully weighed before committing time and money to the pursuit of another degree, including family obligations, employment, and housing status. Even students who have been out of college for a while should not rush in. There is no age cap on going back, so take your time and think it through.

2. IS IT NECESSARY FOR YOUR CAREER PATH?

Many jobs eventually require additional education, but not every career path requires a graduate degree. Taking time off to pursue a degree that’s unnecessary or irrelevant to your goals can derail your plans and put unnecessary strain on your wallet.

3. CAN YOU AFFORD IT?

Some employers pay for their employees to return to school (either full-time or part-time) because it helps the company in the long run, but many students register on their own dime or by taking out large loans. Having another degree does not guarantee bigger paychecks in the future, and even if you do land a nice salary, that money can dwindle quickly when you’re making student loan payments for years. Do the math to make sure your investment will pay off.

4. DO YOU QUALIFY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS?

Some people assume that just because they are officially adults that they no longer qualify for the kind of programs they had access to as first-time college students, but the same rules apply. If you can show financial need or have special accomplishments that align with certain organizations and funds, there could be free money waiting for you.

5. IS HOUSING OFFERED FOR GRADUATE STUDENTS?

If you are attending graduate school in another city or state, housing and transportation are added expenses. Some people prefer living on or near campus in school housing because it gives them more time to focus on their research and can be less taxing on their bank account.

6. HOW ACTIVE IS THE ALUMNI COMMUNITY?

Just like in college, the alumni network for the graduate program or school that you attend can be the difference maker for your plans after completion. An active alumni base also means that there are people who felt that the program was beneficial and who don’t regret attending the school. Having lots of famous grads means nothing if they all hated the experience.

7. HOW OFTEN ARE COURSES OFFERED?

Because most graduate students are adults with busy personal lives, the scheduling of courses is sometimes handled differently. Some programs only offer classes at night, and depending on the availability of the professors, some courses are only offered in the fall or winter semesters. These factors mean that navigating your way through grad school can be a little trickier than grabbing all the required undergraduate coursework was. Missing a course could delay you completing your degree program by a year or more if you have other commitments.

8. ARE THERE EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR GRAD STUDENTS? 

Some schools hire graduate students as teaching or lab assistants, giving them experience in their field while also helping them financially. Depending on the school and program, you may even have the opportunity to work with industry leaders, which looks great on a resumé and could lead to future employment.

9. WHAT OTHER SCHOOLS AND PROGRAMS ARE APPLICANTS APPLYING TO?

When researching programs and schools, it’s possible that you could have missed one that is a better fit for your personal needs and goals. By asking where other applicants say they are applying, you can get a better understanding of where you should be applying also and are able to make a more informed final decision.

10. WHAT PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS FINISH THE PROGRAM AND HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?

Looking at the number of students that applied and the number that were accepted only tells you how popular a school is, not how good it is. If everyone who attends drops out after two semesters or takes 10 to finish, that could tell you a thing or two about how difficult the environment is, and you may want to reevaluate your decision.