How to Know if Going Back to School is Right for You

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Career doubts happen to almost everyone. You might not be making the money that you thought you would, or find you don’t like your work. As a result, you may be considering a return to higher education.

For many, this decision can enhance their careers and lives, but many others may not find what they are looking for in the classroom. Before you pay your tuition and buy your books, make sure that you’re fully informed about what your decision means.

Why Go Back?

Going back to school is often a positive step, but you need to analyze your particular situation before you head back to the classroom. What factors are pushing your return to academia?

Career Dissatisfaction

You need to understand what is driving you back to school. Is your current career unsatisfying or is it your employment situation? If you are a teacher who has discovered she hates to teach, then an entirely new career is in order. If your particular school is a difficult place to work, then switching to a different district may be the answer.

Lagging Skills

You may consider a return to school if your skills are not up to par, or you feel that technology has left you behind. You may need to pursue a certification program to keep you effective in your current job and put you in line for a promotion. In that case, a return to school makes financial sense. Your human resources department may help you, often through a tuition reimbursement program.

Economic Issues

If you are a small business owner whose company is struggling, you may want to jump ship and try something new. Before you do so, consider whether you need more education or better advice. You can be in the right career but lack basic business management skills. Take some business courses instead of changing your entire career.

Enrichment

Sometimes going back to school is not about improving your earning ability or finding a lucrative career but about personal growth. If you have a passion for the arts or another interest and have the time and means to pursue it, then do so.

Where and How

Fortunately, you have a multitude of educational options available to you. You may choose how many hours to commit to your studies and where you want your learning to take place.

Part-time or Full-Time

If you decide to go back to school, you’ll have to decide between being a full-time or part-time student. Many returning students choose to work full-time while pursuing their education at night and on the weekends, primarily for financial reasons. If you have a family, adding school to an already full schedule can be daunting. Planning for childcare and household help before school starts will be invaluable to your success.

Pursuing your education full-time, if financially possible, will speed up the process as well as relieve pressure from your life. You do have to consider how much student loan debt you will accumulate and how long it will take to pay it off. Realize, too, that many full-time students take more than four years to complete an undergraduate degree.

Online or On Campus

By far the most convenient option is online education. Theses classes are flexible and usually allow you to work on your schedule, although they do have expectations and deadlines like any other class. For some adult learners, this route is ideal.

Other students may thrive in a more structured, face-to-face environment. You can blend the two options, since most colleges and universities offer both types of classes. If you have some general education courses to pursue, online classes may work best. For upper-level courses, you may desire the classroom and personal access to the instructor. Graduate courses might allow some internet work, but they will most likely demand your physical presence.

Finances

Returning to school is a significant financial commitment. You need to determine how your return to school will affect your finances.

Profitability

If you are returning to school because you want to ultimately make more money, you need to look carefully at your investment. Going back to school is expensive—even with loans and grants. Recouping that money will take a few years, even if you are preparing for an in-demand career, as a market research analyst, school psychologist or software developer.

Grants and Loans

Before you take any other steps, check with your current human resources department about tuition reimbursement. Many corporations offer these programs, and they can greatly reduce your educational debt load. If you have already attended college, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant may be for you. If you qualify for the Pell Grant—the most common need-based financial option—but need more assistance, the FSEOG can award you up to $4,000. The Pell Grant itself has a maximum award of $5,500 per academic year.

Prior Learning Assessment

Ask about PLA credits before committing to a college or university. You will save money and time if your school grants you credits for your previous work and school experience.

Continuing your education can enhance your life, but to be successful, you need to be certain of your goals before you register. Some career problems will not be cured by returning to the classroom. Turn to education as a positive solution and not as an escape from general job dissatisfaction.

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