Two years into my first “real” job, I remember asking one of my coworkers who had her MBA, “Is it worth it for me to go to grad school?” She said, “It depends. It’s an investment, so if you get a better job because of it, then probably.” At that time in my life, I had very few responsibilities and I wanted to advance my career, so I considered my friend’s guidance, decided to apply, and was accepted. Going to grad school was one of the best things that I’ve ever done for myself, but it didn’t help me advance my career.

Personally, getting my Master’s degree was great.

I made new friends that I still keep in touch with today. I challenged myself to complete a big goal that I wasn’t really sure I had the smarts to complete. I killed time while I was single with no kids. And, I learned how to communicate with people from different backgrounds. In hindsight, that was probably the biggest gain for me because grad school is nothing but working in teams and writing papers, so you have no choice but to learn how to manage personalities effectively to reach a shared goal. So, in terms of personal fulfillment, yes, grad school was worth it.

But professionally, no one cared.

Once I hand my degree in hand, I started applying for jobs like crazy. I thought for sure this was my ticket to making more money and moving up in the corporate world. Right away I was called to interview for three positions after submitting my new resume with my new, expensive education listed at the bottom. But to my surprise, not a single person asked me about my Master’s degree in any one of those interviews. What they did ask me about, and what got me hired, was my blog.

Many of us get to a point in our career where we consider going back to grad school so that we can get a bigger, better job. If you find yourself in such a position now, before you decide to make that very expensive investment in going back to school, ask yourself:

•   Does the job or promotion I want require a graduate degree?
•   Am I willing to sacrifice time away from my family and friends to get this degree?
•   Am I going to commit to finishing the program?
•   Is this graduate program the only way for me to acquire the skills and expertise I need for my next job?

If you answered, “I don’t know” to any of these questions, then you should consider taking a different path to advancing your career. Even if you think that you want to be a CEO someday.

According to Time Magazine, more than 24% of the current Fortune 500 CEOs did not go to graduate school, and surprisingly, most of them went to these schools for undergrad. The research shows that more often than not, they made their way to the top by strategically managing their career choices and having a laser focus on achieving results, not by getting an MBA. You can do that too (even if you don’t want to be a CEO)…without a Master’s degree.

Don’t believe me? Check out your coworkers’ LinkedIn profiles. Make sure you look for the people who are higher up in the hierarchy than you are; I bet you’ll find that most of them don’t have a Master’s degree. The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that you have the ability to maximize your earning potential without going further into debt; all you need to do is figure out what you love to do and master how to market yourself.

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to go back to school after reading this, instead of applying for grad school, take the next three months and do this:

•   Perfect your LinkedIn profile. Get help from an expert if you don’t how to do it.
•   Search on LinkedIn for the job title(s) that you want next.
•   Read the profiles of people who have that job to see how they got there. Compare their experience with yours.*
•   Write the perfect resume and cover letter. Make sure that each document is clean, easy to read, and full of results. Write them both with your next job in mind, tailoring every word to align with the job description. If you need help, hire an expert.
•   Apply for three jobs per week over the next four weeks.
•   Watch the interview requests come in.
•   Get help preparing for interviews in the right way so that you don’t blow the opportunity.
•   Accept the best offer.

Repeat this process every time you want to promote yourself.

*We all take different paths in our career, so the purpose of this exercise is for you to recognize that a piece of paper will not get you to your next step, but your experience and results will.