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07/01/2011 - 6 Things to Consider When Deciding to Go Back to School

Going back to school is a major decision, especially if it’s been years since you’ve cracked open a textbook. While it can be tough to adjust (and takes a lot of money and dedication) getting an education can be a worthwhile investment.

If you’re thinking of becoming a student again, here are some things to consider before starting your first semester:

1. Work experience
Consider how your work experience will propel you forward once it’s combined with your desired degree. If you’re trying to make a career switch, it’s important to understand whether you’re ready to start from square one upon graduation. Additionally, it’s necessary to truly research whether your new degree will allow for a new career once you graduate points out, Michael Robinson, the chief career coach at “I have seen a lot of engineers and non-business folks go for MBAs and when they were done they didn’t look anymore like a businessman than when they started,” he says. If you’re not sure about your work experience, you can always get an internship in your area of study from a college recruiter.

2. Career goals
Consider what your goals are after graduation — is this something that only looks good on your résumé or a program that truly gives necessary knowledge to your career? Robinson suggests asking yourself: “Will you be learning new skills that your employer will value or just getting a new degree?” Understanding the distinction can help you realize if there’s something that could be a better use of your time like getting a new job or striving to work elsewhere in your company or even taking on a side consulting project.

3. Financing
Education is expensive, so make sure you’re getting a good return on investment before making a commitment. Depending on the type of program you sign up for, individual schools can provide funding with grants. Additionally, you can take out private or Federal loans for many education institutions. Gather the list of potential programs and reach out to financial aid counselors to help you make a decision. To decrease costs, you can opt to go to a public versus private university that can be more than double the cost.

4. Time
Depending on the length of the program and whether you’d need to resign from your current job can play an important role in the decision. Taking off from work is a big step, and it’s important to consider any part-time options if you’re not going back to school to make a career switch. If you’ll stay employed consider how many hours are needed to pursue academic endeavors. Not having enough time for school can mean that going back is a waste of money.

5. Career opportunities
Meeting with the school’s alumni can help you assess career opportunities and learn about possibilities for what can be accomplished once you’ve completed a specific program. Be sure to compare your own career goals to those of recent graduates to understand if school would be a good fit.

6. Long-term plans
Thinking through your long-term goals is a great way to make a real assessment. Consider how long you’ll be paying off loans, whether you’re eager to stay in this career for the next decade and whether your industry or sector is healthy and growing. While it can be impossible to really make thorough predictions, it’s important to understand how this type of education can fit into your life.

With the price tag and time commitment of going back to school, assessing key factors is critical. Be sure to think through your long-term plans as well as the true return on investment of attending. And be sure you’re going back for all the right reasons. “If you aren’t getting ahead in your current job, it’s probably not because you don’t have that advanced degree,” Robinson says.