With so many people receiving pink slips, graduate school has become as common a destination as the unemployment office, said Eileen Zimmerman in The New York Times. It can be a wise choice—but only for those who can afford the academic detour or are pursuing a course of study that seems likely to pay off in the long run. “You don’t want to go into another industry that is about to go belly up,” says Eileen Kohan, executive director of the career planning and placement center at the University of Southern California.

Even if you’re employed, graduate school can be a way to “fireproof” your job, said Donna Rosato in Money. “When people hear I’m doing an MBA, their ears perk up,” says Josh Moritz, a 54-year-old advertising executive who’s attending Babson College part time. Of course, grad school isn’t necessarily a financial “slam dunk.” Before you hit the books, estimate how long it will take to break even. “Also, find out what education the hotshots in your field have.” You may learn that a short-term certificate course carries more clout than a fancy degree.