The job market has made a lot of people feel less secure with their positions at their jobs. For those who have lost their jobs, they’re competing with a lot more people for a lot fewer opportunities. You have to set yourself apart in order to be on top in the applicant pool. Your experience is one way to get ahead of the competition, but you can only expand that so much without a job. This is leading a lot more people to go back to school and continue their education, obtaining degrees and certification. However, education isn’t cheap, so is it worth it to go into student loan debt to advance your career?

First things first, figure out why you’re choosing to go back to school. Is it to increase your rate of pay? Are you looking for job opportunities where a higher degree or certification is required? Are you interested in another career field? Don’t go to school without an objective. Know your goal and make sure you’re clear on it.

Secondly, fill out your FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is required for all schools to assist you financially. Filling out your FAFSA before the deadline will show the school a snapshot of your financial situation and about how much you can afford to contribute on your own. Depending on your answers, you may be eligible for grants, which is money you do not have to pay back. If you receive a grant, that’s less money you have to go into debt for. You’ll also need it to qualify for some loans.

Third, check your savings. The less debt you have, the better off you’ll be. If you have savings that you can contribute to your education, this will be wise to use. Maybe you have an education fund, or a fully funded emergency fund. If you have existing savings, make sure you’re comfortable using it for your education. If not, start an education savings account before going to school and save aggressively.

Fourth, budget for a loan. Depending on the type of student loan you receive, your terms may vary. Some loans you have to start paying back right away, while others you get a 6 month grace period. Calculate how much your loan is, your interest rate, and your payment period. Is this a comfortable payment for you? How much will you need to make a month in order to afford your lifestyle and your student loan?

Fifth, put a price tag on your education. Yes, your education already has a price tag: the cost of tuition. However, it’s time to put a value to it. Is it worth going into debt for? Only you can decide this, but some things to consider include how it will affect your income (will having this additional education increase your earnings?), how much you’ll be paying back, and when you will be profitable (paying back your loan and earning more money after that). A $100,000 student loan is going to take a lot longer to pay back than $30,000 or $10,000 so be sure you believe your degree is worth as much as it costs.

Student loans have been considered “good debt” but regardless, it still leaves you owing somebody, and paying out money every month for a while. If you do decide to go into student loan debt, be sure you do all you can to put non-debt money toward your education and have a payment plan set up.