Should I go to graduate school? Is there an online program I can do while working? How long will this training take? Is the curriculum rigorous? How much is this going to cost?
If you’ve ever considered any kind of continuing education program, these are all questions you might have asked yourself. Take it from someone who quit their job, left everyone they knew and moved far away from their Texas home to a land of trains, fall foliage and salsa that tastes like tomato sauce, to pursue a master’s degree – I’ve been there.
It was the best decision I made. And, I’ve since found some decent salsa.
In making that decision, I spent a lot of time asking myself a lot of questions, asking my friends and family a lot of questions and having lots of questions asked of me. Finding yourself in the same space? Here are four questions you might consider:
- CURRICULUM: What is it you will be learning? How will it apply to your goals? Can you tailor it to match your needs?I was trained as an artist, with a focus on my art form, the technical aspects that made it great and the emotional ones that created my vision. Business acumen was certainly not a part of my training. When I decided to continue my education, I was looking for a broad spectrum of skills that would teach me the basics of marketing, finance, fundraising – all of it – in order to run an arts organization.
All programs list their course load (if they don’t that is probably a red flag). Look at them. Do the courses offered fit with the skills you need to gain? Is the content theoretical or action oriented?
This all comes back to what you are really going back to school for – making some gain in your career – whether that is a new job, a promotion or entering a new sector entirely. Know what that gain is for you and make sure the curriculum aligns.
- TIME: How much time are you willing to take for a continuing education program? Are you willing to leave your job and relocate for a few years?I took on the trifecta: two years full-time, relocation and leaving my job. I needed the time and space to learn a broad spectrum of skills – not just a specific topic.
Master’s programs typically take one to two years, while an online course might take only a month. Considering how much time you are willing to invest in a program often comes with considerations of what is next in your career and how quickly you need or want your certification.
- COMMUNITY: Who are the people who participated in this program before? What was their background or position? Does this seem like the type of community you want to be a part of?We’ve all heard people say that the best part of a conference is the ability to network with others and see colleagues from across the world. The same can be said for the bonds formed in fellowships, residencies and educational programs.
The value of the network is exponential. We know that connections lead to collaborations and opportunities. Participating in a continuing education program gives you the opportunity to meet colleagues from different parts of the world, with different goals and similar interests. They become a source of inspiration and support as well as a place where you can be challenged and pushed. They also become your professional network.
See whether the program you are considering has an alumni network or publishes a list of alumni. Looking at the roles of alumni with their current employers is a great way to assess how this program will align with your goals.
Think about how important this community aspect is to you. Programs with multiple gatherings and ongoing tools for connection facilitate relationships in a way that weeklong intensives or online courses may not.
- COST: How much is it going to cost you to pursue this program? Do you get financial assistance?With the rising cost of higher education, these questions are perhaps at the forefront of your mind. No one wants to leave a program neck high in student loan debt.
Professional development is expensive. Options for funding your continued learning range from employer funded opportunities to grants, scholarships, student loans, getting a part-time job or fronting the money yourself. All of these options have their benefits as well as their associated risks or downfalls. Employer funded opportunities often come with either the agreement to stay at your job for a designated amount of time after receiving your certification or if employed by a university itself, being taxed on the actual cost of courses – making that pay check real low. Grants and scholarships are competitive. Student loans come with interest and years of repayment, with forgiveness programs being threatened more and more each day. A combination of many options is often the way we make it work.
You know your financial situation best. The best advice I can give when thinking about this aspect of your decision making is to really know what you can expect to make in the field or job you are pursuing. Do not enter blindly. Look at where alumni of the program have landed. Talk to folks who have the job you want.
Some of these questions are more valuable to me now, in retrospect. Take the time you need to make the decision that’s right for you.
If you are ready to take the next step and are interested in learning more about an opportunity from NAS, check out the Executive Program in Arts & Culture Strategy in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania. It’s one of the many programs we offer at NAS for emerging and mid-career arts professionals to build key skills in arts administration.