Can going back to school help my career?

The answer to this question is it depends. Going back to school can look fantastic on your resume, you can gain valuable skills, learn a great deal, and you’ll also get the chance to network with people in your field while taking classes. But it can also be a huge expense, very time consuming, and in the end, it might not be worth it.

Although that may sound a bit frustrating, the truth is every job field, position, and person is different. And ironically, this question is best answered by asking yourself more questions:

Determine if it is something that is required for the job you want. Do you need a higher degree to be promoted to the next position? A good way to determine this is by looking at those people that are currently in the position you would like, and find out what type of education level they currently have. Search career sites, like Monster.com, to see what is required by the position you desire.

back-to-schoolSecond, will you learn valuable skills that will make you more of an asset in your field? Is it something that will appeal to future employers? Will you be more of a asset to your current employer? Browse LinkedIn to see what types of skills, coursework, and degrees people have that you think would help you in your career.

Third, ultimately what will this degree give you? Will it give you a higher salary, job security, or a job that you dream of? Visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics to find out more about this job. Type in the position you are seeking, and you’ll find out the average salary, what is required for the position, what the job generally entails, the job outlook, and the work atmosphere including how many hours people in the position work per week.

Finally, ask yourself what are the costs of going back to school? Between tuition, textbooks, supplies, and commuting back and forth, college is a massive investment. CollegeBoard.org offers a College Cost Calculator to determine approximately how much attending school will cost you. To get the most accurate depiction of how much college will cost you, speak to a financial advisor at a college you are interested in attending. To start, visit the website. Every college will offer a list of tuition, costs, and fees. According to Scholarships.com, the average student spends $1,100 on textbooks and other supplies, but this will y vary by field of study.

Besides money, you will be sacrificing time you could be working, spending with your family and friends, and doing whatever else you enjoy during your free time. Taking classes generally will mean added stress. The best way to determine this is by visiting with an advisor in the specific department you are thinking about enrolling in. Ask what is the course load like, how intensive is the material, and you can even ask to sit in on a few classes to get a true feel of how it would be.

If the benefits outweigh the costs, then you may want to move forward with going back to school to improve your career.

Where to start

Once you decide that going back to school is the best choice, it can feel overwhelming as to where to start.

First, keep in mind that your employer may offer a tuition reimbursement plan. This would allow you to take classes at no cost or a reduced cost. It may involve you signing a contract that you would continue to work at the company for a designated amount of time.

Second, make a list of everything that is important to you in a school. Is it a reputable program that you will learn a lot from? Do they offer classes online or at night so it can accommodate you as you work? The National Center for Education Statistics offers a search to find the right college for you. It allows you to enter in the items you are looking for in a school and your location to see what is a good match.

Finally, prepare to meet with an advisor in the specific department you’ll be taking classes. This will help you determine how long it will take you to graduate, how many courses you will have to take each semester, and other vital issues. Before the meeting, visit your college’s website. In most cases, it will clearly have a list of all required courses and anything else that is required to graduate. Look at this prior to your meeting with your advisor, and prepare a list of questions so you get the most out of your meeting.

How to pay for it

If your employer doesn’t reimburse you, try to take any needed classes at a community college since it is generally less expensive.

Apply for financial aid to avoid taking out student loans. You may qualify for grants, which is money you do not have to return, or student loans that are available at a lower interest than private loans.

Apply for scholarships through your school. Scholarships are great because, like grants, they are money you do not have to return. Your college’s finance department can let you know what scholarships you qualify for and how to apply.

Besides your school, there are people offering scholarships all around you. Even if your employer doesn’t offer tuition reimbursement, they may offer a scholarship. Any group you are a member of may offer scholarship opportunities as well as your community, state, and city.

Fill out a profile with scholarship search engines, like Fastweb and Scholarships.com. You fill out your information such as anticipated major, any activities you are involved in, and if you belong to any organizations. Then, it generates a list of scholarships you may be eligible for.

Meet with an advisor regularly to be sure you are not taking any unneeded classes.

How can going back to school improve your career? How did it improve yours?