5 Things to Ask Before Getting a Masters, Doctorate or Ph.D

This is guest post by Daniel Im. Daniel serves as the Director of Church Multiplication for New Churches and LifeWay Christian Resources. He is a Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship, a multi-site church in Nashville. He’s the co-author of Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply with Ed Stetzer. Daniel has a M.A. in Global Leadership and have served and pastored in church plants and multisite churches ranging from 100 people to 50,000 people in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Korea, Edmonton, and Nashville. You can connect with him at www.danielim.com and/or Twitter.

Education and degrees tend to open new doors and opportunities. They’re most effective at qualifying you for a particular line of work, but once you’re in and have experience in that industry, you better think twice before going back to school. In fact, you should ask these 5 questions before sending in your tuition deposit.

Now just to get something clear. I love school. In fact, I’ve studied at five different graduate schools in three separate countries. And no, I didn’t flunk out of any of them, nor was I expelled. (You can read about my story here, “Why I ditched the M.Div…and am still a pastor.”) So I’m not writing this post as a manifesto against higher education, nor am I trying to sway you away from getting a masters, doctorate or Ph.D.

I’m writing this post because I want to help you make a wise decision.

That’s it. No agenda at all.

So here are the 5 questions that you need to ask before going back to school:

1. Will this additional degree open doors that further years of experience wouldn’t?

There are two ways to advance your career – further experience or additional education (formal, informal and/or nonformal).

If you somehow made it into your industry without the minimum education requirements, then my suggestion is for you to go get your degree (part time via online education), while you’re still working. For example, if you completed a residency or internship program at your church and were offered a staff position, but you didn’t have the right degree that would’ve traditionally qualified you for that position, then go get that degree part-time via online education or through a local school. If you don’t, then your lack of education will eventually catch up to you and be a lid on your leadership.

However, if you already have your degree and are working in the general industry that you want to be in, then you need to ask yourself if there are any unique benefits to another degree. Yes, there’s obviously the prestige and recognition that comes with a few more letters at the end of your name, but beyond that, what will formal education unlock in your career path that further experience, informal or nonformal education wouldn’t? If your goal is to leave a legacy and to make a significant impact via your role, then you might be surprised at the relevance of seminars, learning communities, leadership development programs, and a few additional years of experience. As Stephen Covey famously said, “Begin with the end in mind.”

2. Have you weighed the cost?

If you’re going to embark on further education, the wise thing to do is to weigh the cost. Don’t be enamored by the gloss of the acceptance letter or the hypothetical letters that will be added to the end of your name. You need to weigh the cost that this endeavor will take, not only on your wallet, but on the rest of your life as well. Here are a few items to add into the equation:

  • How much is tuition?
  • If this degree requires you to take additional weeks of time off, or quit your job, what is the total loss of wages?
  • How many hours per week will this cost you?
  • If married, is your spouse on board?
  • If you have children, how will this affect the way and amount of time you spend with them?

 3. Who am I doing this for?

This is one of those counseling-esque questions. I know it’s easier just to make a decision based on the practicalities of the situation, but if you don’t do a little bit of introspection, you may be embarking on an expensive mistake. So be sure to spend some time journaling and praying about these questions:

  • How will your parents react if you get this degree? How much does their approval matter to you?
  • How will your boss and peers react if you get this degree? Does their reaction matter?
  • Are you trying to compensate for something else by getting this degree? What is it?

4. Is this about the degree or is this about you being bored?

Being a Gallup StrengthsFinder coach, I’ve realized just how much my Learner theme pervades every area of my life. If I’m not learning, I’m not growing. If I’m not learning, I get bored.

Before starting the application process or sending in that tuition deposit, perform a self-audit on your learning quotient:

  • Am I being challenged at work?
  • When’s the last time I learned something new?
  • What happens to my work and life satisfaction level when I’m learning something new?
  • Can I learn all that I want to learn via other educational methods (see question 1)?

5. Is the timing right?

After answering the previous four questions, you may now be convinced, more than ever, to start your formal degree program. If that’s the case, I just have one more question for you – is the timing right? Since we live in an “instant” culture where you can watch-on-demand, listen-on-demand, and order anything you want to eat-on-demand, this sadly pervades into our decision making. Getting more formal education may absolutely be the right thing for you to do, but is now the right timing? Compare what it would look like if you started your degree program next year instead of now. How about in 3 or 5 years?

I hope this helped you make a wise and sound decision. I’d love to engage in a conversation with you about this topic, so please share your thoughts. Would you add or take away anything from this list?

This post originally appeared at here at Daniel’s blog www.danielim.comUsed with permission. 


  • Charles S Areson

    Thank you for sharing.
    I finished my Masters Degree two years ago and everything was right for it. By the way, I am 49 so this wasn’t something I just jumped into. When I looked over the questions I have to say yes to all of them at least for me. Now going on and getting another degree, well that would answer no to almost all the questions though it would look good on a resume, but then since I am not planning on moving the only reason to do it would be pride. Not a good reason.
    I hope people especially young people take this article seriously. I know people who have degrees yet can’t follow their calling because they have to pay off the debts for education they didn’t need. It is sad.

    • L.

      good summary!

  • The one piece he is missing is that education broadens your horizons like nothing else. I started a DMin after being away from school for 20 years. The first seminar was tough, but I never realized how lackluster my thinking had gotten. It forced me to read things I never would have, to wrestle with questions I didn’t know were questions, and to begin to look at my ministry and the world from a much broader perspective. It changed me in ways I never expected. You don’t know what you don’t know – education is the shoehorn for ministry cruising.

  • Amalia

    Great post, I am currently at point in my life and trying to figure out if I want to go back to Graduate school and get my Masters in Social Work. Even while applying (because I have applied before and failed and told myself that was it) a part of me is hesitant and not sure if I should go through with it again. Also because I’m not sure what I want my end goal to be right now. I want to pursue my writing, but creatively I’ve been stuck. I’d like to work for myself and I’m not sure if social work is what I want to do anymore but then I know it would open doors because I like to help people. So in summary – this list def helps to think about some things, especially #4.