Going back to school to obtain an advanced degree or certification is a great idea if you are looking to further your career or get a promotion. Many jobs will require an advanced degree to get a raise or title change, and if you're planning on applying for a different job after you graduate, an advanced degree will open up your options tenfold.
The summer before: Planning your course of action
Choose your path
Deciding on the right advanced degree for your own career aspirations is essential. You want to choose something that will help you get to where you want to be after all of the hard work is completed. Choose something that falls along your career goals and is something you enjoy or will enjoy doing after you graduate.
Seek guidance about going back to college
While you should speak with graduate school advisors, you should also speak with your boss and HR department. Some jobs will want you to obtain a certain degree, skills, or certifications in order to advance your career or get a promotion. Plus, some companies will also pay for your schooling if you follow along their desired path.
Organize your schedule
Organization is always important, and even more so now that you'll be working full-time while going to graduate school. There are many apps and computer programs that will help give you reminders and keep you organized. Utilize the technology available to you to succeed.
Start planning out your finances
Especially for those who have a family or other financial obligations, be sure to plan out your finances for graduate school. Tuition will likely be very expensive unless you have some way to pay for it, plus there will be other expenses involved, including course books that have likely risen in cost since you last went to school.
Early fall: Studying for tests, honing your skills, and gathering application materials
Study for admissions tests
If you haven't taken a test in some time, you'll want to start studying early. In fact, you should plan on buying a study book for the graduate school entrance exam you are required to take, and perhaps even taking a prep course. These tests can be extremely difficult and take a certain type of test taking skills to do well. Look over these study guides early and often. There may even be study groups in your area.
Write your statement of purpose and admission essays
Admissions will have some sort of writing requirement in their admissions process, including a statement of purpose or admissions essay. These essays are different from typical academic essays and will be used to assess not only your writing capabilities, but also the skills you've acquired in your professional life and aptitude to succeed. Be sure that you ask others to read over these essays and be prepared to revise and rewrite them multiple times.
Apply the skills you have gained
You've been working for some amount of time and surely you have gained a lot of skills that will be beneficial to getting into graduate school. Highlight these skills in your essays and utilize them to show what you can offer potential schools.
Gather application materials and resumes
You'll want to make sure you gather all of the application materials early so that you are able to complete them by the required deadline. This is also a good time to update your resume with anything that is applicable to graduate school. Make sure that you submit everything on time, as graduate schools do not give extensions.
Late fall / early winter: Apply for school
Don't miss deadlines and don't forget to get letters of recommendations
Set reminders for completing your application packets by the required deadlines. You'll also want to start notifying your mentors and colleagues to ask them to write letters of recommendations. Nowadays, most of the submission process is done online, so make sure they know what you want them to say and how to submit them.
Submit your FAFSA
It may have been a while since you last filled out a FAFSA, so you will want to fill this out early. Depending on your financial situation, you may qualify for student loans, scholarships, and tuition assistance. Even if you don't think that you do, fill it out anyway. You don't have to accept any award that you are given.
Get in the right mindset
It is good to start mentally preparing for what's to come after you get accepted. If you haven't by now, you'll want to let your friends, family, and employer know what you are going to soon be doing so they can prepare themselves if need be. Especially for those with a family, certain things will need to be planned for since you will be spending a lot of your time completing your coursework.
Spring: Start preparing for school
Preparing for graduate school
Once you've been accepted into graduate school, start seriously preparing and planning out your next couple of years. Speak with your employers, especially if you happen to travel a lot. Let your family know about your new obligations. Also, be sure to research the things you'll need to succeed in school. Lookup study techniques, note-taking skills, and the books you'll need for class.
Sign up for classes and contact your professors
As you are looking for classes, you'll want to sign up for classes that are not only required for your degree, but also will help you pursue your interests and expand your professional knowledge. After you have signed up for classes, shoot them an email and/or meet with them in person to introduce yourself and let them know about your situation. Though you'll still have to be required to do the same amount of work, you can help yourself a lot by being acquainted with your teachers.
Though going back to college seems like a lot of work, which it is, it certainly will be worth it in the end. When you finally graduate and get that degree, you'll be grateful you put the effort in. Keep your head up and don't forget to ask for help if you need it. Tutors are available to help acquaint you with old concepts you haven't used in years, and be sure to utilize your friends and family to help you study and manage your time. Good luck and congratulations on getting into graduate school!