You’ve decided you want to go to graduate school. But should you go full-time or part-time?

This is another question whose answer is ‘it depends’ – on your reasons for wanting a graduate degree, on your family and financial situation, and on what schools and programs interest you.

These are questions you should ask yourself:

– Why do you want to go to graduate school? If you are pursuing a career where academic training and credentials are important, you are better off going full-time. The sooner you earn your degree, the sooner you can get to work. On the other hand, if you already have a job you are happy with (and are at a company you want to stay at), part-time study may be a good choice. You wouldn’t have to give up your job, and can apply what you learn directly to your work – and your employer might even be willing to help out with tuition. (Of course, your program choices will be limited to whatever is offered in the city or region you work in.)

– Are you willing to make the commitment to full-time study? Get a realistic idea of how long the degree program you are interested in takes to complete. Are you willing to commit to living on a reduced (or no) income for that period of time? What impact would it have on your family, in terms of your personal relationships as well as your finances? Can you get grants or loans to help cover the costs? Will your increased future income justify the costs?

– Are you willing to make the commitment to part-time study? Going to school part-time while working full-time can feel like having two full-time jobs. This can put stress on relationships with family and friends. Are you willing to do this for the time it will take to earn your degree?

– Is part-time study a good option for the program you want? Not all programs accept part-time students. Those that do may have a separate track for part-time students – which can mean a very different learning experience compared to that of full-time students. On the other hand, part-time classmates may bring work experience and insight to the classroom that you wouldn’t get from full-time students with limited professional experience.

– Would you be giving anything up by leaving work for full-time study? If you’re in a job you love, and have opportunities for advancement, you may not want to cut ties to go back to school full-time. On the other hand, if your present work doesn’t offer you the opportunities you’re looking for, it may be a smarter choice to invest in full-time study.

– Are you going to graduate school as part of a career change? If you’re hoping to use graduate education as a way to enter a new field, you may be better off going full-time. Internships are an increasingly important part of many graduate programs, and it’s all but impossible to pursue an internship while holding a full-time job.

– Are you hoping to receive grant or scholarship support? Many grants and scholarships are only available to full-time students.

– How would you fit part-time study into your schedule? Does the program you’re looking at offer classes at times you would be able to attend? Check whether the classes you need for your degree are regularly offered when you can take them. You should also ask how much choice you will have in elective courses. Will you be able to take electives that interest you, or have to settle for whatever is being offered as an evening class? If you hope to study with senior faculty, ask whether they ever teach evening or weekend sessions.

– How will you fit other course requirements into your schedule? Class meetings are just one of many time commitments that will be asked of you. You’ll also have assigned readings, research, papers to write, and possibly group projects or internships to perform.

– What are your options? You may have program options beyond those of full or part-time study toward the same graduate degree. Many schools offer mid career programs that allow experienced professionals to earn a graduate degree in less time than a conventional program does. Others offer shorter-term, more narrowly focused certificate programs that might provide the education and training you seek. Still others offer virtual campus programs that employ distance learning or low-residency options to help working professionals pursue a graduate degree on a schedule that meets their needs.

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