Should You Go Back to School? 4 Factors to Consider
Jessica Holbrook Hernandez
January 21, 2011
An article published earlier this month showed more than half of recent graduates from college did not receive a job offer prior to graduation, regardless of their undergraduate major. September 2010 data showed the average length of unemployment was more than eight months. Scary statistics such as these have left many wondering if now is a good time to return to school. Here are some things to consider when making this decision:
What do you want to be when you grow up?
If you haven’t figured out the answer to this question yet, getting more education is not a good idea. Higher education costs have risen at a much faster rate than inflation over the last decade. The worst thing you could do is invest tens of thousands of dollars and years of your time into getting a degree, only to discover five years from now you’re no longer interested in the field you sacrificed so much to study.
Is there job growth in the field that interests you?
Once you’ve really determined what you’d like to do with your career, you should look at the jobs available in your field. Having a local university program in your city may allow you to attend school without making major life changes, but it may also release you into a saturated job market once you’ve finished your degree. It’s important to determine whether people are hiring in your desired field in the area in which you’d like to live—or anywhere for that matter.
How much will it cost?
If you’re considering graduate school, there are many programs out there that include substantial financial aid packages to help you obtain your degree. There are also many loan forgiveness programs designed to attract educated professionals to underserved areas. For example, a friend of mine just had $75,000 worth of vet school loans forgiven by the USDA, because she works in an area where there aren’t enough large animal vets. The military also offers great educational incentives, particularly for health care professionals. If you’re looking to start or finish an undergraduate degree, taking your required classes at your local community college can lower your total costs substantially. Lastly, modern distance learning programs allow many professionals to continue working full- or part-time while they further their education.
Will you make enough money to justify more debt?
If you’re independently wealthy, you have the luxury of obtaining as much education as you’d like without worrying about the return on your investment. But for most of us, it’s crucial to take a hard look at whether more education is worth the expense. My friend is married to a CPA who decided to obtain a law degree in addition to his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting. The payment on his student loan debt is now higher than their house payment, and his salary went up only about $5,000/year.
For a lot of people, returning to school does make good, solid sense. If adjusting back to the student lifestyle allows you to obtain a degree that will get you hired into a field that pays well, go for it. Just be sure to give this major decision the consideration that it’s due.