As the season of caps, gowns, and motivational speeches arrives, student affairs practitioners may find themselves asking: Should I go back to school for a doctoral degree? This is a great question that requires thoughtful consideration – especially if you plan to devote significant energy into preparing applications over the summer.
One way to approach this big question is to break it down into three potentially more manageable ones. Hopefully, these sub-questions will help along the way – they may even provide guidance should you decide to write a personal statement!
1. Is there more you want to know?
The starting point to any great research is a great question. Regardless of what doctoral route you consider pursuing, you will be asked to conduct research. Entering doctoral study with ideas and questions about one or more sincere areas of interest will help guide your academic reading, concentrate your course selection and paper topics, and help you progress towards competing the degree. So – is there more you want to know?
2. Are there scholars you want to work with?
Should you pursue doctoral study, you will work closely with an advisor who will help you develop your research topic. You will also interact with faculty across departments as you take content and methods courses, form a committee, and become involved in research and teaching opportunities. It is important to consider the faculty members you might be interested in working with. A good place to start is to think about the journal articles, authors and/or research agendas you find fascinating.
3. Are you prepared to make a change?
The questions I get asked most by colleagues considering going back to school concern the degree of life and lifestyle change that may be required. When thinking about going back to school, be sure to consider all of your options. These include exploring full-time and part-time programs, applying for a PhD or an EdD (different schools have different degree requirements) and relocating versus staying where you are. It is also helpful to obtain reliable information about what financial awards might be available through different degree programs and schools. In short, try to gather as many facts as possible about how much lifestyle change will actually be required. And remember: most decision-making processes are iterative, so no need to make any final decisions before you have gathered the information you need.
Ultimately, considering whether, where, and even when to return to school can be complex. As you think through the many variables involved, perhaps the best piece of advice I can give is the most obvious one: be sure, at every point in your process, to speak with people you know and trust. Friends, mentors, colleagues, former professors, and family (I got great advice from a relative I rarely see!) can all help ensure that the choices you make are the right ones.
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Jake Nelko at firstname.lastname@example.org.