Does Going Back to School Make Sense Mid-Career?

Not progressing as quickly as you would like within your profession? Maybe you feel like you’ve already gone as far as you can in your career based on your current education level or skill set? Or, perhaps you’ve grown weary on your current path and want to start over in a whole new line of work? Whatever the case may be, going back to school to achieve your goals has probably crossed your mind. Be it for a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree, higher education often equates to higher earnings. That said, the prospect of taking on new debt and expending substantial time and energy to further your career—in the middle of your career—might complicate your decision. Here are a few things to consider when deciding if going back to school mid-career makes sense for you.

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One of the most important factors in determining if it makes sense to go back to school mid-career is the expense. Especially considering the average total cost for obtaining a master’s degree in the United States is $66,340 and a whopping $114,300 for a doctorate.

If you’re pursuing a bachelors degree, you can expect to pay, on average, anywhere between nine and 27 thousand per year at a public school (in-state/out-of-state) or between 18 and 38 thousand (in-state/out-of-state) annually at a private institution—and that’s just for tuition. Once you factor in books and supplies the total price tag can become considerably higher.


Another key consideration is time—not just how long it will take to complete your schooling (including the time that will be taken away from your other priorities in the process), but also the amount of time remaining for you to reap the benefits of all your hard work. With that in mind, the average age for retirement in the United States is around 64 years old, and the typical person will work for approximately 42 of those years. That means, if you go back to school in the middle of your career, by the time you finish your chosen degree, you’ll probably have somewhere between 17 to 19 years left with which to leverage your new level of education—assuming you go to school full-time. However, for many, simultaneously working and going to school full-time is impractical and will ultimately result in even fewer years to realize any added benefits.

Return on investment

Statistically speaking, the median annual salary for those with a bachelor’s degree is 84 percent higher than those with only a high school diploma. Those with a master’s can expect to earn around 18 percent more than those with a bachelor’s and doctoral degree holders make 21.3 percent more than those with a master’s. While you’ll have to do the math tailored to your own set of circumstances, if that level of increase in salary over the next 17 to 19 years is significantly greater than the amount spent obtaining your degree, a good case can be made for going back to school in the middle of your career.

Going back to school should be considered an investment and certainly one where you’ll want to make sure the benefits outweigh the costs. While making more money doesn’t have to be the only measure of your return on investment, it’s typically the most common motivation for continuing education. As the old saying goes, “you have to spend money to make money.*”

*Of course, spending someone else’s money to further your career is a much more appealing proposition, and many employers are now offering tuition assistance and other related programs for furthering your education as part of their benefits package.

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