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A Grad Student’s Guide to Going Back to School

Contemplating heading back to university for grad school? This blog breaks down the obvious and hidden costs while providing tips to manage the change.


Here I go again!

Just when I thought I was done with being a student, I’m heading back to university, but this time as a business grad student at the University of Calgary.

Back in June 2020, I made the decision I wanted to go back to school to complete my Master’s Degree in Business Administration. This decision is one I didn’t make lightly as it comes with some big costs, sacrifices, and a lot of life changes. From the moment I made the decision to accept my spot into grad school, I spent many hours thinking about why I wanted to do this, what I wanted to get out of it, researching various schools, studying for the entrance exam, preparing my applications, and doing interviews.

After being out of school for so long you forget about how much time and money it takes to even just apply.

3 things to know before applying to grad school

This new adventure hasn’t come without some big changes. I’m living in a new city, balancing work and my studies, and managing the pressures of increased financial demands. Depending on your situation, you might find yourself in a similar situation. But if it’s the right path for you and something you are determined to do, then in the end, its worth it.

Here are three questions that helped me determine that this was the right path, complete my applications, and prepare for all the changes that were about to come:

  1. What are the financial demands?

To put this simply – graduate programs are expensive! However, every program and school are different and there are many options available to lessen the financial load. It’s important that you understand what to expect for tuition, student fees, books, etc. so that you know what supports you might need and how much you’ll need to save.

  1. What’s my why?

On top of the financial demands of a graduate program, they are also quite intensive and require a lot of time in and out of class. Knowing your “why” will ensure going back to school is the right decision for you, assist in choosing what classes you want to take and help give you that push to study when your motivation is running low.

  1. What program is right for me?

There are endless options when choosing a program. Once you choose a discipline, you’ll also have to map out your specialization or focuses, executive programs, accelerated programs, part-time/full-time course load, etc. Make sure to do your research and tailor this experience to you.

Costs to consider

When I was thinking of going back to school, I immediately considered all the obvious costs like tuition, books, and student fees. What I didn’t expect were all the expenses that would come before I even got in. According to Stats Canada, on average a Master’s in Business Administration costs roughly $27,000 and that only includes tuition. In the table below, I break down my expenses from applications to tuition.

 

Note: My program is accelerated meaning it has fewer classes. If I was applying for a typical MBA at this school, the total costs would be approximately $7,000 more.

On top of the costs that come with school, I also had to consider the costs that would come with this big life change. Including:

  1. Moving to a new city
  2. Lost income

Not being from Calgary meant I would be moving. These costs include rent or the purchase of a new house, moving costs to rent a U-Haul, packing boxes, and all the fees that come with it. For some, it will also mean lost income. For full-time programs, you are typically required to take three classes at a time and they tend to be during the day, making it much more difficult to work.

Tips on managing the costs

While all the expenses outlined above can seem overwhelming, there are lots of resources available to support students:

  1. Look into scholarships and grants – do this early and do your research!
  2. Employer education programs – talk with your employer to see if they offer any supports to employees looking to further their education.
  3. Student financing options – such as student loans or student lines of credit.
  4. Personal savings – if you can, start putting money away each month into a savings account.
  5. Look into part-time programs or executive programs – both are designed to allow students to work while completing the program.
  6. Ask yourself, where can I start cutting costs now to save more? Consider your wants versus needs.

In the long run, depending on your career goals, going back to school is worth it. But it doesn’t come without an adjustment period. Just remember, make sure you understand the financial demands, know your why, and do your research to find the right program for you.