Return to School to Change Jobs?

But is the expense (in terms of both time and money) worth it?  There is no denying that education pays.  

The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced in 2011 that the unemployment rate for people with college credits but no degree was 8.7%.  That number plummeted to 4.9% for people who earned a bachelor’s degree and 3.6% for those with a master’s degree.  There are salary benefits as well.  In that same year, those who did not finish college earned $719/week, while college graduates earned approx. $1053/week and those with graduate degrees earned $1263/week.

In addition, many certifications –especially in the medical field – are highly sought after and compensated.  Certifications for RN’s, basic life support, CPR, and advanced cardiac life support are some of the top certifications being sought out this winter.

Whatever the choice, furthering your education comes with a commitment, regardless if you go full-time, part-time, attend class online or return to the classroom.  In order to decide if the commitment is worth the results, here are 4 things to keep in mind:

1)      Expectations need to be realistic.  A degree or certification is not going to solve all your problems.  Many people view returning to the classroom as a panacea – something that will solve all their difficulties.  It won’t.  A MBA will not guarantee you a position in upper management; a RN degree will not provide you with the work experience you may need to land a job at a hospital; you might not be able to get your teaching certificate and “just teach”.

2)      Evaluate affordability.  Continuing education is expensive.    You may have your heart set on a particular program at a particular school, but can you afford it?  If not, will your new career/job provide you with the financial means to handle any payments?  There are many financial aid payback calculators available.  Always, always, always search out all available financial aid to help offset costs.  You never know what you can receive when you take the time to fill out a form.

3)      Search out alternatives.  If you are interested in a certain career path, taking on the huge financial burden of a new degree might not be the best way to achieve your goal.  The return on your investment simply might not be there, so look for alternative ways to get your experience.  Remember, coursework in an academic setting is not the same thing as experience, and – in many cases – experience goes farther.  So, for example, if you are working as an administrative assistant but would like to get into marketing, see if there are opportunities to learn within your own organization.  The job descriptions that your HR department maintains can provide a nice little roadmap for you to follow as you outline additional skills needed and target certain projects you might be able to work on. Once you have a plan established, approach management to see if there are any opportunities.

4)      Might not need to spend money to “fill a gap”.  Many people feel that returning to school can help fill a gap in a résumé.  If you have been laid off, being able to avoid résumé gaps is crucial.  However, there are many, many ways to do this that do not necessitate a large monetary outlay (at a time when every dime counts). Volunteer work or temporary employment allows you to try out different types of jobs as well as different work environments and cultures.   Many talent management (i.e. staffing) companies work with a variety of local companies that need flexible talent.  This helps you not only avoid the résumé gap, but provides you with an alternative to a hefty tuition bill.

By Christiane Soto,

NOTE:  A full-color, downloadable PDF is available.