Here are 7 questions to ask yourself before you jump in…
- WHY? Why do you want to go back to school now? Identify some goals that you want to achieve. The spectrum ranges from GED to Ph.D. and beyond. A GED, if you do not have a high school diploma, is a very wise investment. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a high school diploma alone can possibly earn you an additional $200K over your career lifetime. But what about additional advanced education? Do you need an advanced degree to get a promotion or make a career change? According to the National Center for Education Statistics for 2014, a 25+ year old male with a B.A. Degree can earn a median income of $27K higher than with a high school diploma alone; $20K higher median income for a 25+ year old female with a B.A. Degree.
- HOW? How do you figure out if going back to school is beneficial for you? Research the field that you want to pursue. Some fields require at least a B.A., such as nursing or legal careers, just to meet the minimum requirements. That’s a no brainer. But what about other fields? Conduct salary research to make sure that when you finish your studies and get your degree, that you have a very good chance of finding work in that field. Kiplinger’s calculator tool (www.Kiplinger.com/links/gradcalculator) is very useful for estimating whether you will see enough of a salary boost to justify college expenses. Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections (www.bls.gov/emp) to see which industries are currently growing.
- WHERE? For some, a brick and mortar college is the only way to go. They need to sit in a class, see, hear, and participate in real time, on-site with Instructors. Others, prefer classes they can attend at their convenience with accountability on-line. What is your learning style and what fits your lifestyle or work schedule? Take time to research the specifics of various degree curriculums by evaluating the content. Talk with a guidance or career counselor to make sure that the degree you are choosing is in alignment with your goals. Evaluate the time commitment of the degree you choose to make sure you can finish it.
- NOW? Is it the right time to go back to school? Do you have competing priorities that will make it overly challenging at this particular time in your life? Do you work a lot of overtime or have a ‘rush’ time in your industry? Will you have additional child care needs and/or expenses to consider? Are you ready to devote time to studying, writing, reading, and completing coursework? Often people find that returning to school is much more intense and time-consuming than it was when they were younger. Evaluate your commitment level.
- SHOW ME THE MONEY… Where are you going to get the finances for funding your return to college? Check to see if your employer has tuition assistance, and if they do, research the requirements as they often require you to maintain a certain GPA level. Are you eligible for financial aid, if so, what type? Research grants and scholarships that may ease the burden. Visit Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education at irs.gov to gather specifics about tax credits and deductions that may offset the cost of education.
- LESS COLLEGE? An advanced degree may not be the only answer. Updating your skills with a class or two can help you maintain your current job while adding to your resume. Consider a certificate program which usually encompasses 7 to 10 specialized classes and may set you apart from you competition. A certificate program is usually much less expensive than a four-year degree, and requires less time to complete.
- WHO CAN YOU COUNT ON? Support from family and friends may be crucial as you burn the midnight oil studying for an exam, or have to miss events to ‘attend’ class. Making your goals clear and concise and asking for support can make a world of difference. You might want to let your boss know that you are going back to school so that they understand, and hopefully value, your extra demands. Reminding everyone that this time is only ‘temporary’ and that the gains will outweigh the sacrifices can be helpful. If you have children, include them in your journey. Showing children your fortitude to continue learning and growing is great motivation. You may even consider making a ‘homework’ hour where you pull out your laptop as everyone tends to their schoolwork.
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Call me to schedule a free consult to discuss your career direction!
Kara Varner, MAOM, CPRW