When You Should Go Back to School – and Other Options to Consider

When you feel like you’ve hit a dead end in your field, or hope to increase your earning power, you’ve probably asked yourself if going back to school would be a smart idea. Some people yearn for the days of books and grades, while others shudder at the thought. For either group, going back to school may be worth considering. Here’s what to know before you make a decision.

  1. How much education do you have? For people who didn’t finish a college degree – or perhaps didn’t even complete high school – returning to complete their education will pay off. Without a high school diploma, workers earn just $25,600 per year and have high unemployment levels. A diploma raises income to more than $35,000 per year. An associate’s degree adds another $6,000 per year. A bachelor’s degree makes a considerable difference, raising average earnings to $59,000. Master’s degree-holders earn $69,000, and those with a professional degree (like a medical or law degree) earn the most of all, at nearly $90,000[1] – but remember, those educations often come with a hefty student loan balance to match.
  2. What education is needed or expected in your field? If everyone in your company’s, or your industry’s, management has an MBA or an advanced engineering degree, you might have little choice but to add to your education. On the other hand, in fields where a bachelor’s is standard, people could look at a master’s degree as unnecessary. In that case, you might be better off investing in professional conferences, networking, and taking a leadership role in industry associations.
  3. What outcome will education offer you? Personal satisfaction can’t be measured in money, but other things can. Will you earn a higher salary with a new degree or certificate? Do some research to sketch out your likely future. Look into sites like LinkedIn or Glassdoor to find estimated salaries for your chosen profession. An online Net Present Value calculator can help you evaluate the net cost of your education after your new earnings.
  4. How will you pay for it? Do you have funds to pay for classes? If not, how will you pay for tuition, fees, books, and time spent studying instead of working? Will you need child care or additional transportation? Take into account how much additional earnings you might have with the degree, how long you will be repaying student loans in the future, and whether you will lose any income while you are in school,. All of these calculations can help you determine if more education makes sense.
  5. Take baby steps. Before diving into the deep end by enrolling in a program, take a class – in-person or online – or try out a boot camp. These short-term options let you find out if you’re really interested, or just dreaming about making a change, before you leap.
  1. Does your employer support your goals? Some employers reimburse workers for tuition costs. If your job offers this benefit, find out if it’s only for specific programs or courses before you enroll. Others might offer flexible schedules, time off or a possible promotion if you earn an additional degree.
  2. Are alternatives available? Sometimes, the answer to your career goals isn’t in a new degree. Think outside the box, and consider broadening your professional network through active networking, taking part in a fellowship program or even doing a job exchange with a colleague in your company or another industry to get a fresh perspective. Perhaps you need a sabbatical, professional training or a hobby that fills your personal time with satisfaction.

Finally, if you decide further education is right for you, do your homework about the program itself. Be sure the program you’re considering is accredited (vetted by a national or regional educational program) and stable. When you do your homework before you enroll, you can be sure you’re making a smart decision – and then enjoy your exciting new future.

[1] https://smartasset.com/retirement/the-average-salary-by-education-level

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