Should you go back to school?

5 stunning stats about college debt
5 stunning stats about college debt

Are you thinking about graduate school?

A masters or doctorate can get you a salary bump and new skills if you're a career switcher. But shouldering the cost isn't easy.

"The last thing that you would want is to take out loans to cover student loan debt that you can't pay back once you graduate and enter the working world," said career and life coach Jenn DeWall.

Still, grad school is a growing trend: The number of students aged 25 and over enrolled in degree-granting institutions is expected to increase by 18% from 2014 to 2025, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Here's a breakdown of what you need to know before heading back to the classroom:

Know your purpose

A big mistake is that frustrated Millennials are turning to graduate school as the "cure-all for career advancement", according to Adam Smiley Poswolsky, millennial workplace expert and author of "The Quarter-Life Breakthrough."

"I think a lot of Millennials feel stuck," he said.

Instead of dwelling on a bigger paycheck, think about how the degree could broaden your network. Poswolsky recommends people ask themselves whether it's possible to meet people who will help their careers simply by attending a conference or completing a week-long fellowship program -- or do you absolutely need to go back to school to meet that community?

Keep your loans in check

In total, graduate debt makes up around 40% of the country's $1 trillion in outstanding loans, according to a 2014 report by think tank New America. In 2012, the typical borrower owed $57,600 for their undergraduate and graduate studies combined.

It's important to understand the opportunity cost of graduate school and whether you can recoup the cost, said Alissa Carpenter, millennial expert and career coach. She recommends websites such as Glassdoor, O*NET OnLine and PayScale for researching your post-graduate salary.

Experts say a smart way of shaving debt is by looking at tuition reimbursement options through an employer and demonstrating it will help the company in the long run.

However, Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster, warns that tuition reimbursement is often based on a percentage of the grades you earn and you'll have to fork up if you leave your job within a certain time frame.

Get your feet wet

Take baby steps such as enrolling in an online class, bootcamp or certificate course. That way, you can gauge whether it's the right move and how it balances with work and family commitments.

It's also important to consider whether it's better to study full-time or opt for the part-time program and keep income flowing.

"It's far more economical to get real paid working experience than it is to pay for an education that you may never use," said DeWall.

But it's also crucial to keep the end in sight.

"Begin with the end in mind. If the career path you're pursuing requires an advanced degree, then the answer is to definitely pursue it," said Salemi.

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