As decisions go, the one to go to grad school or not is up there with some of the most expensive life choices you're going to make. A degree from a reputable school in a field that is likely to enhance your career prospect will set you back anywhere from $40,000 to almost $170,000 (if you do your MBA at Columbia).
Compare that range to the ticket price of other life-changing events that you might undergo before turning 40:
Cost of an average wedding: $30,000.
Cost of an average divorce: $15,000 to $20,000.
Cost of an average week in Vegas for your friend's ridiculous bachelor/bachelorette party:$1,250 (not including bail money).
Cost of a tattoo: $75 to $100 per hour.
Cost of tattoo removal: $75 to $300 per session (with 5-10 sessions necessary for removal).
Median US home price: $188,900. (No, wait…why are all you coastal city dwellers sobbing?)
Average cost to raise a child: $245,340.
So, while the right degree can definitely open doors to a more lucrative career path, it's important to be careful when assessing schools: the wrong choice can end up costing you more than the fallout from that time you woke up in Vegas, sporting a freshly tattooed-on wedding band—unless you also end up having to factor in the final item from the list above.
The reason I'm bringing all this up: I recently took the plunge and went back to school—online.
Having carefully weighed the pros and cons (and I mean carefully: at 36, and several years into my commitment to spending an apparent half million dollars on child-rearing, this decision has been years in the making for me), I finally decided last fall that I couldn't wait any longer—but that I also couldn't afford to take the 2 year career sabbatical to attend a bricks and mortar institution.
Having been alerted to the possibilities of online education via my work at Vault over the past few years, I have few fears about the quality of the program I'm attending via my laptop every night. To be clear, though, I did have some fears: you don't have to scrape too far below the surface to find evidence of unscrupulous behavior in the sector, largely from for-profit schools charging massive amounts of money without any apparent concern for whether their students complete the programs or not.
My one remaining fear is that those bad operators are tainting the entire concept of the online degree. While there's increasing evidence to suggest that employers are becoming more open to the concept, I still took extra precautions when researching schools and programs to ensure that I knew as much as possible about the reputability of both before taking the plunge.
And so here I am, 2 weeks into my first semester: slightly sleep-deprived; coming to terms with the realization that my nights, weekends and vacation time are no longer my own for the next 2 years; getting used to finding quiet spots with enough room to hold an open textbook while commuting; getting to know a group of classmates who are scattered around the country; and rediscovering skills that I haven't used in a long time, like taking notes that will make sense more than 2 days from now.
It's too early yet to be able to make a definitive call about the program, and I'm sure there will be plenty of ups and downs in the months ahead. But whenever there are useful insights about the grad school experience--particularly the online experience--I'll be sure to share them here.