You may be at that point in your IT career where you need to decide if you are going to get an advanced degree and move up the tech career ladder or if you are satisfied with where you are at the moment.
The desire to go get a traditional or online graduate degree is a natural one. If you are in a technology management position, especially in municipal governments or certain other positions, a master’s degree in public administration (MPA) might make perfect sense if it is a qualification for that next raise or promotion.
However, before you rush out and enroll in further technology and management classes, there are a few key questions you should ask yourself. Here are four questions to ask before getting your technology management graduate degree.
What Are Your Career Goals?
The first question to ask yourself is what your career goals are. Where do you want to go long term, and how will a graduate degree help get you there? Are you looking at changing information management careers or staying in your same field?
The answer to these questions will help you determine if you actually need an IT graduate degree, if you want one, and what the return on your investment will be. A technology graduate degree will cost you something, both in time and money (more on that in a moment) and you need to evaluate for yourself whether it will be worth it.
The best way to determine this is to talk to your boss, others in your field with and without degrees, and even a career counselor. They can help you weigh the pros and cons of learning technology at the graduate level.
Which Graduate Degree Do You Need?
This is another area where a career counselor and your peers can help you determine what you need. Once you have made the decision to go back to school and have determined your career goals, you will then be able to narrow down your choices.
For instance, you might want to pursue a technology management degree in your field, but a master’s in public administration may offer you the same career benefits at a lower cost. Both may have their advantages and disadvantages. More so, knowing what employers in your field in addition to the place where you work now are looking for will help inform your decision.
Just remember that sometimes what seems like the obvious answer may not be the only one. By being creative and getting a different degree that is still relevant you can set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd. A master’s in a parallel area may make you more marketable and valuable than a master’s in information systems, for example.
The point is that while you may think you know what degree you want and should get, it is wise to explore other options before making the commitment to a specific category.
How Do You Want to Attend School?
It is harder to return to school when you already have a career, a family, and other responsibilities than when you were in your twenties, young, and carefree. This means that traveling to your nearest college campus and taking traditional classes may not be the best answer for you. With modern technology, there are many other options.
- Online Degree Programs: There are entire degree programs offered online where you never have to set foot in a classroom. Of course this depends on the degree you are seeking, but even if you need an internship and residency they are often offered in your local area in cooperation with businesses and organizations.
- Low-residency Programs: These programs are a blend of traditional classes and online degree programs. Typically, most of your class time is online through virtual classroom software, and the rest is spent in a classroom, but these are often intense, short term sessions where you spend time with your peers and professors. These programs are also traditionally less expensive than full-residency programs.
- Full-residency Programs: This is the traditional graduate school. You attend classes in person, and while some work is turned in online, classes are not offered via the internet, although you can do some tutorials and review that way.
Before choosing the type of program you will enroll in, consider your own personal learning style. Do you learn from doing? Do you do better with interactive learning or by watching video or a lecture? Typically low-residency programs or online degree programs offer more learning options, and are more flexible.
The other thing to consider is the time it will take to travel to physical classes, and how you will manage your schedule with the rest of your life. Online programs are ones you can attend anytime and anywhere, and low-residency programs have similar benefits for most of your degree times.
How Will You Pay for Your Education?
As much as you may want or even need a graduate degree, there are always some costs associated with any degree program. Some of the costs are monetary: even if you can get grants or your employer pays for some or all of your education, you will need to have a good computer at home, buy books, and probably reduce the hours you can work, at least a little.
There are also several ways to pay for your degree:
- You can ask your employer to pay for it. This often means making a commitment to them for a certain amount of time once your education is complete.
- Grants and scholarships: These are the best ways to pay for your education, since you don’t have to pay them back. There are a number of ways to qualify for grants, and many scholarships available. Talk to your financial aid advisor to learn more.
- Student Loans: You can finance your education with student loans and pay them back once you graduate and start working in your field. While this is going into debt, sometimes it makes sense due to the payoff later.
No matter what method you choose, you will have to find a way to fund your technology education, and there will be additional expenses as well. Be sure to take those into account when planning.
Before you start on a technology management graduate degree program, there are questions you should ask, things you need to know, and costs you need to weigh. Once you determine if it will be worth it in the long run, you can embark on your IT career and education journey with confidence.
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