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To degree or not degree? That’s the question for many workers looking to get ahead
American workers are going back to school in droves to earn degrees and certifications. In theory, getting a degree—or an extra one—is a great way to advance your career. Statistics show that people with degrees earn more money and have higher employment rates than those without degrees. But if you already have a job, is it always worth it to invest in going back to school?
Education is expensive. For example, if you’re thinking of going back to school to earn an MBA, you can expect to shell out around $44,000 for that sheepskin, according to a Forbes report. It’s about $11,000 more to get an MBA from a private school. That’s a huge investment, so it’s important to know if the returns will be worth it.
As a consultant, I worked for a vice president who once told me if there’s no requirement for you to go back to school, don’t do it. He didn’t have an advanced degree or MBA, but he was a great leader who has done very well for himself. His message resonated for me: don’t go back to school just because. Instead, focus on what will make you more valuable and successful in your current role, or will set you up for success in your desired roll. A degree doesn’t always meet that standard for everyone.
As the cost of education continues to rise and the amount of free time we have continues to shrink, my VP’s message is more important than ever. If you’re thinking about going back to school to earn a new degree, here are some questions to ask yourself first:
- What’s my motivation? Is it because the job you would like to move into specifically requires that degree? That’s a good reason to go back to school. Is it because everyone else in your department is doing it, even though your company doesn’t require you to have a degree for the job you’re doing? If you want to be a doctor or a psychologist, you’re going to need that doctorate, but if you’re in marketing, you probably don’t really need a Ph.D. Look into job descriptions for positions you’re interested in to get an idea of how often they require applicants to have an advanced degree.
- Does it make financial sense for me to return to school? You know it’s going to cost dough to get a degree. Where will that money come from? Do you have savings? Are you eligible for financial aid? Will your company help pay for it? Can you keep working and earning while you pursue a degree? And on the other side of the question, are you reasonably confident the degree will improve your ability to earn more money?
- Do you have the time to go back to school? Online degree programs have made it easier than ever to go back to school, but it’s still a lot of work. You’ll need to make a significant time investment. If you enroll in a program, pay your money but fail to complete the work because you just couldn’t find the hours to do it, you’ll be wasting time, resources and energy.
- Does that higher degree risk pricing you out of a job? More than one advanced-degree holder has been told he or she is overqualified for a job. If you’ve got a Ph.D., you probably have certain salary expectations. Will the companies you want to work for be able to meet your monetary requirements? Will they even bother to interview you if they don’t think they can afford you?
- Are you possibly better off staying as/where you are? Instead of spending time and money earning a degree that may not really advance your career, re-examine your current role to assess what skills and experience it provides that could benefit you later on.
Going back to school can be a great move on many levels. But before you make the investment, be sure you understand what you’ll really get out of it.