Should You Go Back to School?

Considering Going Back to School?

Here’s a little quiz for you: Answer True or False to the following questions:

It’s a good idea to go back to school to earn another degree or certification if you want to change careers and go into a new field.

It’s a good idea to go back to school to earn another degree or certification if you want to increase your earning capacity in your current job.

It’s a good idea to go back to school to earn another degree or certification if you want to build your knowledge and confidence around a certain subject.

It’s a good idea to go back to school to earn another degree or certification if you are older and younger employees are more knowledgeable and skilled in your job (or at least they think they are).

Making the Back to School Decision

When you read through that list of statements… does it seem like a no brainer?  Are you ready to send in your application now?  Hold your horses, lets think this through a bit more.

It’s not an easy decision and there is a lot at stake.  Your time, money and expertise just to name a few things.  There are a lot of ways to analyze the question but the most important thing is not to assume that going back to school is the answer to every career problem that you face.  While you may learn a lot and even enjoy the experience, getting another degree does not magically guarantee a step up in your current career or entrance into a new one.  Here are some things to consider:

  • What are the benefits? Exactly how will a degree or certification further your career?  Can you enter the career field without it (or have you already)?  Obviously some careers require certain credentials to even begin. You can’t be a brain surgeon by taking a few online classes.  On the other hand, the most important thing in any career is the experience gained through taking action.  Where and how can you learn and more importantly, practice the skills you need in this particular job?  Evaluate the academic path that you are considering.  Does it include hands on practical experience, an internship for example, or is it all about sitting in a classroom and learning? Can you interview or shadow someone who is currently in the position that you are interested in to make sure it is a good fit? Do they recommend going back to school?
  • What is the cost? Evaluate the cost of the program and the increase that you expect in pay, especially if this is the main reason that you are going back to school.  Are you taking out student loans to go to school? How long will it take you to pay them back and what income will you need to do so? Talk to successful people in your field who are earning the big bucks… to what do they credit their earning success? Do they have the degree you are seeking?  What were the results for them?  Again do not assume that a new degree=more money.
  • What is the opportunity cost? What will you gain AND what will you lose? Going back to school to gain knowledge, confidence or to keep up with current trends can work. However there are a few questions to ask yourself.  Do you enjoy going to school?  How much margin do you have in your life for this additional activity?  What will you need to give up in order to go to school in terms of time and opportunities? What sacrifices will you make with family, friends, extracurricular activities? Finally, consider non-traditional ways to gain the knowledge or confidence such as online classes that fit into a busy schedule, short workshops or training, even reading books on the subject first to see if you have the interest and perseverance to stay the course.

So is the answer true or false?  Like most things in life, the answer is “it depends”.  Carefully evaluate your decision to go back to school and don’t assume it is the only way to further your career.  The options today are infinite.

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