When does it make financial sense to get a graduate degree?

(CNN Money) — Is grad school really worth the money you pay for it? Are people really getting jobs with their grad degrees after school? I’m a 32-year-old single mom who graduated with a bachelor’s in/near the recession and have a job that has nothing to do with my degree. Should you go in debt to try to get a better job? — Christina

Lots of people wonder whether it makes financial sense to go to graduate school. Another degree can open doors to new opportunities and better-paying jobs — but it can also require a serious financial commitment that might not be worth the cost.

Here are some tips on how to make the right decision for you.

What’s your end game?

Before going back to school, you should make sure you know what you want out of a degree.

“You have to be clear about your objectives and the positions you’re targeting,” said Wendy Enelow, author of “Modernize Your Résumé” and an executive résumé and career consultant.

Enelow recommends getting as specific as possible when determining your field of study. An MBA might be the right call if you want flexibility after graduation, but it could be too broad for those who know exactly what job they want.

“If you’re targeting the healthcare industry, it’s probably much better to have a degree in healthcare administration,” she said.

Related: How can I pay off $175,000 in student loans and still have a life?

If you’re looking to increase your earning capacity, take a look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ industry projections and wage averages. BLS predicts job growth across sectors, and includes the 2016 median annual wage for each job. These numbers can give you a good idea of how much jobs pay and in which sector you’re most likely to get hired.

If your preferred job won’t pay enough to eradicate debt from your degree, consider a similar job in the same field. Louise Kursmark, an executive career consultant, says to ask yourself, “Can I get into it in a different capacity?”

Do your research

Researching your chosen industry can help you determine what type of degree you should pursue — and whether you need one. Talk to people in the field, and find out how they got there (and how they feel about their jobs). Informational interviews can help you down the line as well.

“These same people can be your network” once you get a job, said Kursmark.

Remember that not every career requires a graduate degree — you might be able to switch jobs without going back to school.

Related: Should I invest my emergency savings in the stock market?

If you do decide to pursue a degree, make sure to pick one that “meets your life requirements,” Enelow said. Plenty of institutions offer online courses — if you live on the East Coast, you don’t necessarily need to move to California to get a degree from a UC school. And you might not have to shoulder the cost of tuition alone: If you’re going back to school for a field related to your current job, your employer may agree to contribute to your education.

Manage expectations
Enelow advises giving yourself more time to finish your degree than you think you’ll need. “If you think you can get through that program in 18 months, add 6 months on,” she said. “Worst case scenario you actually finish in 18 months, and you’re feeling great.”

And remember that there’s no job guaranteed at the end of the advanced degree tunnel. According to Kursmark, “getting a degree is never a magic bullet.”

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