The Good, Bad and Ugly of Returning to the Books

Last week, we brought you the reasons why young professionals are opting to go back to school. As you may recall, these ranged from everything to a requirement from employers and changing careers to bragging rights. Although there are most definitely benefits to going back to school, our research with Canadian young professionals also revealed concerns and drawbacks to returning back to the books. Today, we assess these in further detail. As with many things, factors will vary for each person and are largely circumstantial. 


Income potential: A graduate degree often results in a higher starting salary and may also open the door to promotion opportunities, respect and career advancement that a regular undergraduate degree may not. 

Reveals commitment and dedication: Going back to school, especially when it is not an easy decision to do so, reveals a great deal about your character and drive to succeed and is generally viewed as a highly respected decision. Even if you end up in a different career altogether, we have always said that a degree is one investment that nobody can take away from you, and one that speaks volumes about your breadth of experience and knowledge. 

Chance to meet people and network: Enrolment in a graduate program means that you will be interacting, collaborating and working with other people who will one day be in the same profession. Any savvy young professional understands the importance of developing their networks within their industry and the best way to foster these strong bonds is to develop them early through friendships. 

Welcomed change of pace from the workforce: For some young professionals, especially those who have been pounding the pavement for at least 3-5 years in the workforce, returning to school may be a well-received change of pace. Although the workload may in fact be as demanding as a job, the sometimes more flexible schedule, absence of bosses and accountability to clients may be just what certain YPs crave. 

What a fellow YP said: 

“Not only did returning to school help my marketability, but knowing that I had that competitive advantage increased my confidence in interview situations.”


Financial Stress: No surprise here. The biggest deterrent in going back to school among Canadian young professionals is the financial burden. This includes not only tuition fees, but also lost income. For certain professions, a graduate degree could result in an additional $20,000 to $100,000 in loans and living expenses.  We’ve seen YP peers in the medical profession graduate with debts in excess of $100,000 and watched them struggle in their early years as doctors simply to make debt payments. Many masters degree programs, post graduate certificates and law and med school require more of a full-time commitment and demanding schedule than undergrad and afford little room for the luxury of a part time job. 

May put a damper on your existing social life: Going back to school may have a negative affect on your existing social life and personal relationships. In addition to your loss of disposable income for things you used to enjoy   charity events, dinners and girls or boys trips your schedule may not allow to spend as much time with people close to you as you did before. Whereas it used to be easy to grab a quick lunch or after-work drink with friends in neighbouring offices, your grad program may be in a facility outside of the downtown core and evening group meetings may have to replace your Thursday happy hour routine. Gruelling exam schedules may interfere with a bachelor or bachelorette weekend away, even if it is for your best friend. 

Career stagnation: Those without their eye on the prize may feel that going back to school is actually “holding them back” from the workforce as they are forced to put their current careers, jobs and income on hold. YPs expressed feelings of frustration in watching their friends accelerate in their careers while they were forced to start back at the bottom after school or to accept a position that may seem like a lateral career move.

No guarantees: Especially in uncertain economic times, there is no promise that a graduate degree will guarantee a job. For certain majors and careers, a graduate degree is not necessary to improve job prospects in the first place. These young professionals may have been better off in their previous job, before they were left unemployed and with substantial student loans that need to be repaid.

What a fellow YP said:

I went back to grad school very early in my career. This is my one regret, despite enjoying my grad school experience. Having graduated, I found that my degree actually made it more difficult for me to find a job. I have too few years of work experience for higher level positions, yet my degree suddenly made me unattractive for entry level positions.” 

Words of Advice: 

Weigh your return on investment. The investment of time and money is substantial when considering a return to school. In weighing potential pros and cons about returning to school, is important to ensure you are pursuing a graduate degree in a field where you are certain you will be rewarded.  In other words, make sure it’s worth it. 

Go back for the right reasons. Unless you have the leisure and the resources to do so and are one of those career students, don’t go back to school simply because you are bored or looking to get out of a rut. Be sure of what you want. 

Be prepared. Know what you are getting into. Be prepared to accept the financial and social implications of your choice and have appropriate measures in place. Stay tuned for our final addition in this series on adapting to the return to school.