UNITED STATES—Have you had your sights set on earning a master’s degree in business, law, engineering, history, education, or some other subject? If so, you are one of the many who seek an advanced diploma to fulfill financial, personal, and educational goals. Making the decision to attend a grad program after college is a huge step and has the potential to change your lifestyle significantly, and for the better. But without a plan you will be left asking yourself now what post-undergraduate graduation.

However, many working adults and recent university grads aren’t sure how to proceed once they choose to attend to the challenge that graduate programs present. Fortunately, there’s a tried-and-true system for success. It begins with selecting an institution and a subject area. Next, candidates arrange for financing, make a long-term plan about job prospects, and sharpen their study skills. Making a life change means refocusing your priorities and doing some detailed planning. Here are more details about each step.

Choose a Subject and a School

Step one is about identifying an institution and a subject. For some, this is an easy thing because they already know exactly what field they wish to pursue and what their favorite schools are. For others, the challenge involves a bit of soul searching, making short lists of institutions, doing research on different career paths, and more. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you have a clear idea of what programs make the most sense for your academic interests.

Arrange for Financing

For prospective master’s candidates, money is a central concern. Getting degrees and paying for them are two separate challenges. The good news? You can borrow as much as you need from a private lender and not have to worry about finances while hunkering down to earn good grades and studying for long hours during the program. What’s so great about private financing sources? First, the application process is streamlined and a completely online affair. Plus, borrowers can take advantage of flexible repayment arrangements and competitive interest rates. It’s essential to get the finances taken care of as soon as you decide on a school and a subject.

Make a Work Plan

Sit down with your school’s career counselor and explore post-graduate job opportunities. Professionals who work in placement offices know what’s out there and which kinds of career paths you’ll be most suited for after your coursework is complete. At this stage, it’s wise to keep your options open and not commit to any particular job or company. That’s mainly because the economy changes pretty quickly and what’s a hot field today might not be open or lucrative by the time you’re on the job market a year or two from now.

Study Efficiently

If you’ve been away from the academic world for a few years, think about taking a tutorial or online seminar to brush up on your study skills. This is especially important for working adults who have been out of college for several years and need to sharpen the powers of concentration that are so vital in every grad degree course. Contact your chosen institution’s academic office and see if they offer study skills classes.