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.
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.