A master’s degree is increasingly the best way to move up in your field and earn a higher paycheck. Earning one may even be necessary to enter some fields. And, thanks to online master’s programs, today’s graduate students can earn a degree from the comfort of home and on their own schedule.

But going back to school for your master’s degree is still a huge commitment of time and energy, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to get a scholarship, tuition waiver or other financial aid. For many students, grad school is also expensive. Before you commit to years of hard work and high tuition bills, ask yourself these five questions to find out if getting a master’s degree is a good idea for you.

1) Am I Interested in Doing Research or Other Advanced Work in My Field?

When you earned your bachelor’s, you learned all about the accumulated knowledge in your field – everything from the history of your field to what experts are doing now. But if you decide to pursue graduate studies, you’ll begin to contribute to that accumulated knowledge as you become one of the experts you once learned about as a young student entering the field.

Most students in master’s and doctoral graduate programs do advanced work in their fields, which typically includes doing research with a professor in their program. You might also have the opportunity to perform independent research on aspects of your field that interest you, and you could even gain recognition in your community and your field for your discoveries or theories. Graduate studies could also present the opportunity to work on other advanced projects in your field, such as participating in archeological digs or building and developing new technology.

2) How Will a Graduate Degree Advance My Career?

Of course, in some fields, you’ll need at least a master’s degree to even be considered for a job. If you want to be a counselor, psychotherapist or social worker, for example, earning your master’s in counseling online or in a brick-and-mortar program is a no-brainer. But even if you don’t need a graduate degree to succeed in your career, it might help you achieve your goals.

For example, you can get a good job in most engineering fields with just a bachelor’s degree. But a master’s degree might qualify you for more senior positions and help you command a higher salary right out of the gate. A bachelor of science in nursing can lead to a comfortable career, but a master of science in nursing could put you on the path to nurse practitioner, administrator or nurse educator. Consider where you want to go in your career and whether a master can help you get there.

3) How Do I Feel About More School?

Did you like school? Were you a good student? Most graduate programs will require that you have at least a 3.0 GPA from your undergraduate studies in order to qualify for admission. If you liked school and were a good student, or if you found undergraduate studies easy, then grad school might be the right choice for you. But if the thought of going back to school for one, two or several more years makes you die a little inside, maybe you should explore other ways to advance your career.

master's degree4) Am I Interested in Teaching Opportunities?

If you choose to go back to school online, you may not get the chance for a teaching assistantship and the tuition waiver or stipend that typically accompanies such a position. But if you’re interested in seeing what it’s like to teach at the university level, many master’s and doctoral graduate programs offer their students teaching assistantships. You’ll teach introductory courses in your field to undergraduate students, and in return, you’ll get a scholarship, a little money towards living expenses and some experience to put on your resume.

5) How Passionate Am I About My Field?

Earning a master’s degree gives you the chance to delve deeper into your field than ever before. So, if you’re not truly in love with your field, then grad school might not be for you – unless, of course, you’re going to use it as a stepping stone to change careers. A master’s degree can be a great way to get the education you need to make a change, although some programs might require you to complete prerequisite core courses before starting post-graduate academic work.

A master’s degree is a big commitment, and it’s hard to earn – that’s why only about 9 percent of American adults have them. But earning one can open doors in your career and lead to increased job security, more prospects, and a higher salary – if you decide it’s the right move for you.