What To Consider Before Going Back To School
When it comes to your career, many experts recommend that you consistently develop and grow your skills and knowledge, rather than just maintain the status quo. That can mean taking on new tasks and responsibilities at work or attending training sessions.
It can also mean going to school.
Attending school as a mid-career professional has a lot of positive benefits:
- A graduate or additional degree may make you eligible for a new level of title or increase your earnings potential.
- Additional coursework or a degree can also be helpful if you’re seeking to transition from one career to another.
- Most likely, attending school will lead to you broadening your network.
But, of course, attending school is also a costly endeavor, both in terms of time and money.
How To Decide if You Should to Go Back to School
Whether you’re considering returning to school for a career switch, or to further your career, here are some important factors to keep in mind.
Choose Your Degree Wisely
Not all degrees have the same earnings potential or job opportunities.
Think through what interests you, along with what the degree (or additional coursework) may help you to accomplish in your career. Do not neglect practical considerations, like exactly how much additional education will cost and what you’ll potentially gain in earnings.
Before choosing a degree, you can research what jobs are available (and at what salary) for that degree. You can browse job ads to get this information, or look on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website to see what degrees are usually required for a job you would like to hold. The BLS shares information on employment opportunities by job title, too. You can also seek out people who have the job you want and then check their LinkedIn profiles to see their educational background.
Keep in mind that a degree might not be necessary for your desired outcome. It’s possible that completing a single class or short certificate program will open you up for a promotion at work. Or, perhaps doing some freelance or volunteer work on the side will give you the necessary experience for a job in a new industry.
Bottom Line: Before you pursue further education, know what precisely you want to accomplish (whether it’s a better job, more knowledge, a new career, or so on), along with how likely it is that a degree will help you achieve those goals.
Know Your Options
As a mid-career professional, you may have a lot of options to choose from when it comes to returning to school. Some questions to consider are:
- Will you attend part- or full-time? One option is much faster, of course, but it’s also worth noting that with a part-time degree, it’s often possible to continue working full-time even as you pursue a degree.
- Do you want to get your degree on a campus or online? In some cases, online degrees may be an option. This can be far more convenient, but keep in mind that for some degrees, some of the rewards come from the in-person connections you make with future colleagues. That is, the networking opportunities that accompany getting a degree may be as valuable as the knowledge gained from textbooks.
As well, it’s also an option to take continuing education classes (which will give you more knowledge, but not a degree) or apply to certification programs. As you can see, returning to school as a grown-up is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
Think Through the Finances Involved
How will you pay for your degree?
Some companies offer tuition reimbursement. If you’re currently employed, check with your human resources department about what types of degrees or programs are eligible. You can take out private loans as well as apply for federal grants and scholarships to fund your degree.
Carefully weigh how much it will cost to gain a degree against your current income and savings, with an eye toward a potential increase in your future earnings. Again, depending on the degree, it may or may not be financially worth it.
How Much Time Do You Have Available?
As well as being pricey from a budgeting perspective, going back to school takes up a lot of time. Only you can know what’s reasonable, given your other commitments. Keep in mind your work and family obligations, as well as your social life.
Accessing your schedule may help you determine if a part- or full-time degree is most feasible for you. If you want to continue working while you attend school, consider when you will be able to do your homework, write papers, and study for exams.
How To Decide What To Do
Should you give it a go attending school as a mid-career professional? As you can see, there’s a lot to think through, which makes this a very personal decision. So, should you give it a go attending school as a mid-career professional? As you can see, there’s a lot to think through, making this a very personal decision.
If you are still unsure after deliberating on your own, consider reaching out to people with a career track you admire, connections who’ve attended school as mid-career professionals, your college career office, or to your mentors.