Going Back To School: How Do You Decide?

by Sue Maden on May 30, 2012

Should you go back to schoolTo go back or not to go back, that is the question — when it comes to school, that is. For some, the answer is simple. There are fields of study or careers that have minimum education requirements for advancement. You may need that next degree to be eligible for promotion or to move into a different career.

But before you sharpen those pencils and head to campus, think it through.

Consider Your Options

The first thing to consider is your options. School is one option; what are the others? If you want to gain a skill like leadership, problem solving or emotional intelligence, for example, a variety of resources — books, courses and coaches — can help. If you’re in need of technical competence and credentials, a certification or licensure could benefit you. Talk to someone in the field in which you’re interested or the job that you’re thinking about. Ask that person what qualifications he or she has that have been the most helpful.

How Much Time Has Elapsed?

Another thing to consider is how long it has been since you earned your first (or most recent) degree. The issues are different depending on whether you’re a recent college graduate or someone who’s been in the workforce several years.

Recent grads are likely aware of the time commitment required by attending classes and pursuing a degree, not to mention the impact on other areas of their lives. However, before you decide on that path, find out if that next degree will really get you where you want to go. In some fields, it’s expected you’ll spend a certain amount of time — a few years, even—practicing your technical skills. Getting a master’s or an MBA immediately after earning an undergraduate degree may sound appealing because you don’t yet have other commitments, but it may not get you that dream job. If you’re unsure, talk to a human resources professional who recruits for the types of roles you’re interested in.

For those who’ve been in the workforce for some time, give serious thought to both the time commitment (expect 10-15 hours of work outside of class time for each class), and the support you may need. How will you manage your time? Is your partner willing to pick up the extra slack at home? Will you be OK with missing out on events with your family? If you’ll miss work time, do you have the support of your manager?

Then There’s the Money

Finally, and equally important, there’s the financial decision. The average cost of a two-year MBA program is $80,000-$120,000, which is no small change. You’ll need to make a plan for how you’ll cover those costs. If you’re already working, ask if your company has a tuition assistance program. If you’re job seeking, find out if potential employers offer a program and ask about any waiting period. Even if your company offers tuition assistance, you need to know the details. Most programs have either a dollar cap or a minimum grade requirement. And regardless of the program, the student is typically responsible for paying up front and getting reimbursed once the grades are in. Are you prepared for that?

So whether you’re getting ready to don a cap and gown in the next few weeks and are considering the next step or a working professional thinking about the next level, consider your options, think about the demands on your time and budget, and make a decision that’s right for you.

Are you debating whether or not to go back to school? What factors are influencing your decision?

Image by eriwst via Creative Commons

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