Everybody Is Going Back To School—Should You?

School supplies in the aisles, back-to-school specials, college campuses buzzing with activity … ah, another summer is almost in the books, and nostalgic feelings of simpler school days come flooding back. If you find yourself in a transitionary period of life right now, you may even be contemplating whether going back to school is right for you. While we don’t claim to have the answer, here are some pertinent points to ponder as you wonder if it makes sense to go back to school and navigate the crossroads in your life.

going back to school

Identify Your End Goal

This step requires a lot of research, reflection and contemplation — but it starts with identifying what the end game is for you. A degree is a means to an end; what are you hoping that end is, and will the degree multiply your chances of getting there? For example, you may have an undergraduate degree in history, but adding a master’s degree in education could give you the big push you need to get a prime job as an educator. Or you may have an undergraduate degree in communications, but supplementing that with a master’s degree in journalism may quadruple your prospects of landing a job as an editor at a higher starting salary.

Consider The Stage Of Life You’re In

It’s easy to assume that individuals considering higher education are young or don’t have prior work experience. That’s not the world we live in today by any means. Today’s students can range anywhere from young adults in their 20s to moms looking to re-enter the workforce to more seasoned professionals switching careers to older professionals who want a side gig. Wherever you may fall on that vast spectrum of life stages, don’t forget to factor it into your decision making. While you’re at it, also consider your location and whether you’d be open to relocating for a wider range of opportunities. For example, if you aren’t open to relocating and there are no physical or virtual jobs in your desired field where you live, you should talk to professionals about your options before tying up part of your life savings in a degree you couldn’t make the money back on.

Talk To The Experts

Don’t ever feel like you need to make such an important decision alone or in a vacuum. When we say experts, we mean at a minimum that you should consult with your peers who have earned the degree themselves as well as professional advisors. For the former, identify and reach out to others who have obtained the same degree you are looking into. Ask them detailed questions about what it took (financially, mentally, emotionally, etc.) to secure the degree, and what their career prospects were upon graduating. Ask if they were to go back in time if they would make the same choice again. For the latter, whether it’s career counselors or mentors or trusted advisors, seek counsel from outside professionals — outside your immediate circle of family and friends — who can offer an unadulterated, objective, professional viewpoint and can help you weigh the pros and cons of your impending decision.

Do The Math

You know the famous saying, “Keep it simple, stupid.” The simplest, most basic and fundamental thing you can do is to calculate the ROI on your investment. You wouldn’t make purchase or investment decisions without understanding the payback, right? So why wouldn’t you do the same when it comes to something as critical as higher education. For example, perhaps you can earn a consistent range of $30,000 - $50,000 a year with an undergraduate degree in your field of choice, but a graduate degree in the same field will start you at $40,000 but put you at $90,000 annually about 10 years into your career. Student loans are no joke, so make your decision wisely and with prudence. Doing the math can often open your eyes and put your investment into perspective.

Deanna Hartley is a prolific writer and editor, having spent the past decade publishing hundreds of print and digital bylines on topics including job search advice, career development, recruitment, HR and human capital management. Deanna has a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, was formerly a senior editor at award-winning publisher Human Capital Media and a senior copywriter at CareerBuilder. She currently works as a content manager at Aon, a global professional services firm. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including Gannett’s network of newspapers, Business Insider and Workforce Magazine.

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