7 Things to Consider Before Going Back to School to Further Your Career

By Liz Greene

Despite what you may have heard, a college diploma isn’t the only way to get a decent job. There are multiple professions where you can make serious money without a degree — including working as a web developer, paralegal, or insurance agent. However, many careers that start without the need for formal education can be furthered by adding a degree to your portfolio. When weighing the idea of whether or not you should go back to school, there are a few things you should consider before you make your decision.

going back to school

Evaluate whether a degree will help you achieve your career goals.

The first step is to be absolutely sure that you’re on the career path you want to be on and research whether additional schooling is a necessary to further that path. You don’t want to find yourself several years down the road massively in debt, without the position you wanted.

Know what degree you will need.

If you start without a degree of any kind, a clear place to start would be to obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you’ll want to find out whether a certificate or a degree program is the next step — and which degree is going to offer the best prospects for career betterment.

Decide if the financial investment is worth it.

There’s no doubt about it, going to school is an expensive venture. It’s important to evaluate whether your future salary will allow you to pay off the accumulated educational debt in a reasonable amount of time. Thoroughly research your options before committing to a program. Attending classes at a private university will likely cost substantially more than those offered by a state school or community college. However, depending on the major, the value of getting a degree from a first-rate university might make the additional cost a worthy investment.

Explore financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

Carefully explore your financing options — you might be eligible for special scholarships, grants, or beneficial financing arrangements. Contact your school’s financial aid department for more information, and be sure to check with your employer to see if they offer a tuition reimbursement program.

Look into transfer credits and work experience

Sometime the experience you have can be one of the greatest benefits. If you earned college credits in the past, check the transfer credit policies at the college you’re considering to see if your credits will apply. Some colleges will accept work experience as well. You can easily shorten the amount of time it takes to earn your degree by getting credit for for the knowledge and experience you have already acquired.

Consider an online/nontraditional program.

Deciding where to attend college is an important step in the process. If you work full time and have a family, you’ll want to find out which colleges in your area provide resources to help nontraditional students earn their degrees — full-time versus part-time curriculums, night classes, etc. A great way to get started is to visit a school’s website and search with the keyword “nontraditional student.”

If the program you’re after isn’t available at a nearby university, an online degree program is something you can consider. Most colleges offer full online programs or blended programs that allow you to do a great deal of the coursework online as well as scheduled in-class time to meet with your professor. However, it’s important not to mistake online classes for being easier or less time consuming. Online classes require just as much a discipline and time management skills as traditional classes.

Evaluate whether you’ll be able to balance school, work, and family.

For each hour you spend in class, you are likely to spend an additional two hours studying and completing assignments. If you have a family, a full time job, and a social life, how will you find time for classes and assignments? Are you and your family willing to sacrifice time together? School commitments will mean additional stress on both you and your loved ones. It’s imperative to consider the impact on your life and whether or not you’re willing to shoulder the burden.

Going back to school can be a massive benefit to your career. Gather your data, gauge your finances, talk to your family, and take the time to make the best decision for your particular set of circumstances — it’s the best way to set yourself up for success.

Liz Greene hails from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. She’s a lover of all things geek and is happiest when cuddling with her dogs and catching up on the latest Marvel movies. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene or delve deeper into her internal musings at InstantLo


Heading back to school?  Don’t forget to order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students.

Going the Distance…From Your Living Room (Guest Post)

Will Bankovich, freelance blogger for Study2U.com and full-time dad, wants to be Bill Cunningham when he “grows up”.

My three-year-old is crying, the cat just barfed on the carpet, spaghetti is bubbling over onto the stove and, in the midst of all this, I’m on the phone with a shady mechanic trying to get quotes on a new alternator so I can make it to work this week. The last thing on my mind is “Gee, I should really go back to college”. But maybe it should be.

Are you a single parent thinking about going back to school? (Photo courtesy of Kevin Cawley via Flickr)

Are you a single parent thinking about going back to school? (Photo courtesy of Kevin Cawley via Flickr)

 

A 2010 National Poverty Center press release reports that over 31% of families headed by single individuals were under the national poverty line. This is by far the poorest sub-group in the country, without factoring in ethnicity. Naturally, this statistic leaves out some vital factors: assistance such as food stamps, Medicare/Medicaid, employer-provided insurance and other subsidies/social services. Including, most importantly, that life with low-to-modest wages does not equal a deprived life for you and your kids. Small budgets can lead to creativity. You can be penniless and still build a life of love.

However. When you’re trying to take care of your family, higher learning equals higher earning. The statistics on this are well-known facts. Those in possession of a college degree are making more money. Fortunately, there are many, many resources out there for non-traditional students. I saw an article not too long ago focused on “the best fields of study for single parents”. Nonsense, I say! The best area of study for anyone is whichever career they want to go into. Period.

Distance learning is obviously a popular option for those with priorities at home. Online courses cover basically every area of study, are beamed right into your living room and tend to be cheaper than most standard colleges and universities. You work at your own pace and can probably make your kid a sandwich while you’re taking a test, or work full-time, squeezing classwork into your own spare moments. And forget the commute! You can earn credits in your robe and slippers.

With all the talk of student loans crushing the millennial generation, you’d think financial assistance would be a tough nut to crack. If this is your first foray into academia, Pell Grants are your new best friend (they can only be used towards a first degree). Pell Grants can be combined with other types of funds, and there are no restrictions on the number of scholarships you can apply for. If there’s any money left over the refund goes to you, to help out with other expenses.

The last thing to consider is the example you’re setting for your kids. Afraid they’ll see you pulling out your hair trying to juggle your job, a brand new course-load, being a good parent and well…life in general? Rest assured, you’re illustrating the importance of education to those kiddos. Not just school, but life-long learning and the pursuit of passions. And that’s just about the most important trait you could hope to instill.


No matter what type of student you are, The Secrets of Top Students can help you succeed.  Order your copy today!