Going back to school can conjure up some really scary thoughts for potential adult learners. That fear is most likely brought on by unanswered questions: Why am I doing this? Do I have enough time? Do I have enough money? Could it really advance my career?
Don’t let this uncertainty rob you of a chance to grow. There are no right or wrong answers. Do your research, give it some thought and make decisions about what is right for you.
Why am I doing this?
Steven Covey had it right when he advised in habit #2 of his book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People: Begin with the end in mind. For an undertaking like going back to school, you must be clear about why you are doing it and what you want to get out of it.
Are you in a job or career you love and want to advance? Have you discovered a new career and are looking to break into it? Do you want to start a new business? Are you looking for the self-fulfillment that comes along with such an accomplishment? Are you just bored at work and looking for something to do?
Being clear about why you are going back to school will not only help you set clear goals and maintain focus, but will also provide the determination to stick with it when things get tough.
Do I have the money?
The old adage “You have to spend money to make money” may be true, but who says it has to be your money? Before you start budgeting for tuition or considering a student loan, a little research can help you uncover funds for school with no strings attached. Check out schools you might attend, federal resources, private organizations and your job.
For example, Bryant & Stratton College offers the Salute to Spouses Scholarship for military spouses and the Department of Defense provides help through the MyCAA program. Non-profit organizations like the National Military Family Association have scholarships too. Finally, your current employer might even offer tuition assistance, especially if you are taking courses that will make you a more knowledgeable or skilled worker for that company.
If going back to school isn’t feasible right now, you can still grow by attending workshops through professional associations or classes with specific skill sets in mind.
“I strongly promote gaining multiple skill sets to avoid placing the “career eggs” in one basket,” said Eldridge.
These more affordable options can give you more time to plan financially for a degree program if that’s your ultimate goal.
Do I have the time?
Few of us have an abundance of time and going back to school isn’t something you can just ‘squeeze in’. Consider changes in all areas of your life in terms of how you spend your time. What can you give up in exchange for the pursuit of your education? At home, you may have to delegate some chores and relinquish some responsibilities. In your leisure time, you may need to cut back on some of your volunteer or hobby time. Can you make this happen? Or more importantly, are you willing to make this happen?
Look at your work time too. Your manager might surprise you.
“Some employers try to reward employees’ self-improvement efforts by being flexible with work hours so they can attend school and by acknowledging them during work ceremonies,” said Susan M. Heathfield, management consultant who writes the HR site at About.com.
Does this job work in my community?
Getting education in a career field that doesn’t offer opportunities in your community will be extremely costly and frustrating. In order to understand the local employment situation, research the occupational outlook online and then conduct informational interviews where you live and plan to work.
“All individuals should research the state agencies' websites as well as job board websites and current business news to know what’s going in a particular industry,” said Sheryl Eldridge, GCDF and HR specialist. “So much is changing that it’s an absolute must to stay in the know,” she added.
Start with the Department of Labor’s www.careeronestop.org. Then, visit the local office in person. The staffs have relationships with local employers, colleges and other organizations that can provide unmatched insight about the local workforce.
“Also try to conduct informational interviews with local employers and workers. They have the best information about whether this career choice makes sense for you,” said Heathfield. HR personnel will do them too. They are creating the future workforce of their community.”
If your community is the whole world, as is the case for military spouses and other frequent relocators who don’t know where they might end up, then your research might focus more on identifying ‘portable’ careers, companies with telecommuting jobs or virtual self-employment gigs.
The bottom line in all this is, when deciding whether to go back to school, don’t assume that adding a degree or certificate to your resume will guarantee more pay, a promotion, a new job or personal fulfillment. But, do the research first so you will better understand yourself, what you want and the job market. Then, decide what education path will get you there.