Should You Go Back to School? 7 Things to Consider

Student with kid finding ways to go back to school

Should I go back to school?

Financial benefits: A higher education level is correlated with higher incomes. In the first quarter of 2022, those with a bachelor’s degree or higher earned 800,525 in median weekly full-time wages and salary, compared with $827 per week for high school graduates [1]. Graduate degrees can stretch that number even further. Here’s a breakdown of median weekly earnings by education level:

Achieving your personal goals: If you’ve always wanted to get a higher degree, or finish one you started in the past, going back to school can be a source of personal satisfaction. Furthering your education can also help you discover new passions, grow more independence, and meet new types of people. Whatever the reason, be sure to think through your decision to ensure you’ll be making the best choice for yourself.

What are the downsides?

Attaining a degree can be costly. That said, there are several signs that point to long-term financial benefits if you complete a degree. Make sure you minimize your costs where you can, and pick programs that align with your personal and career goals. If you’re looking for a quick career change, other options—like professional certificates or bootcamps—can be worth considering.

Going Back to School: 7 Things to Consider

Choosing to return to school to finish a bachelor’s degree or pursue a graduate degree can feel like a big decision. As you consider whether going back to school is the right move for you, ask yourself these seven questions:

1. Will this help me in my career or help me switch careers?

Going back to get your master’s degree or bachelor’s degree can connect to higher earnings over your lifetime, or be the first step in switching careers. If you’re going back to school for career impact, you’ll want to make sure your field of study is relevant to the work you want to do.

2. How will this impact my finances?

While the financial benefits of getting a degree have been well-recorded, school can still be expensive. Having a plan to pay for your education can save you headaches down the road.

The price of higher education can vary depending on several factors. Is the school private or public, in-state or out-of-state, online or in-person? How much financial aid can you expect to receive? There’s evidence that public, in-state, and online schools are cheaper than their counterparts.

Don’t put off applying for financial aid. There are several scholarships specifically for returning adults. Plus, you can apply for federal aid for both undergraduate and graduate programs—get started by completing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) [3].

3. Do other options make more sense to me?

Some careers don’t have specific degree requirements. Other options like professional certificates and online courses can equip you with the skills needed to switch careers or satisfy your curiosity.

Professional certificates: Professional certificates are credentials that can open doors to careers that don’t call for specific degrees, and often don’t require any previous related experience. Some will prepare you for in-demand jobs by teaching you new skills, like data analysis or IT support.

Online courses: Online courses can introduce you to new subjects or offer targeted instruction in a skill area you want to improve. Trying to become a web developer? Try a course on HTML, CSS, and Javascript, or Python. Or try a free course in psychology or statistics. Online courses are plentiful, and chances are high that you can find one on a subject you’re interested in. They can also be a good way to make sure you like a subject before you commit to a full degree.

Bootcamps: Bootcamps are short, intensive programs designed to quickly get you specific skills, typically in a few weeks or months. Though perhaps associated with coding classes, bootcamps exist for a variety of other fields, like UI/UX design, data science, and graphic design. If you already have a degree but are trying to switch to a new field or want to enter a field that doesn’t require a degree, they can be quicker and often cheaper than getting a degree.

4. What should I go back to school for?

What you choose to study can depend on the reasons you’re going back to school. If you’re going back for a career change, it can be a good idea to find what job areas are growing in your desired career area. This may help you land in a field where jobs are more readily available and your skills are in demand. If you’re going back to school to fulfill your personal goals or learn something new, this aspect may not be as high a priority.

Not ready to commit to one field yet?

Though it’s a good idea to have a sense of what you want to study, colleges should have opportunities for you to take elective or general education classes that can expose you to different fields. In grad school, the opportunities for electives may narrow—it’ll be hard to take an English class in an international relations program, for example—but you may get the chance to explore different specializations.

5. Do I want to go online or in person?

Online and in-person schooling both have their merits. Online degrees can afford more flexibility, and allow you to access schools and professors that are geographically far, often at a lower cost than in-person equivalents. You likely won’t have to worry about relocating, and have more flexibility to stay in your job or take care of family.

6. Full-time or part-time?

7. How should I pick a school?

An online school should be accredited by a regional or national organization to guarantee a baseline of quality. Some online programs have entirely pre-recorded lectures (called “asynchronous” classes), while others feature live sessions; some courses are taught by university faculty while others are taught by teachers hired by the school specifically for online courses. Programs may offer hands-on projects or robust alumni networks. Think about what you want out of your online degree and see if the programs you’re interested in stack up.

Cost of a bachelor’s degree program

The cost of a bachelor’s degree depends on several factors, like whether the program is part of a public or private institution, in-state or out-of-state, online or in-person, and whether or not you get financial aid. Keep in mind tuition is separate from other living expenses, like housing and transportation.

Private vs. public: The College Board found that one year of college, on average, costs $10,740 at public four-year institutions for in-state students and $27,560 for out-of-state students. Private nonprofit institutions cost $38,070 [4]. However, private colleges may have more institutional resources to give out as financial aid.

In-state vs. out-of-state tuition: Public schools may have lower tuition if you’re an in-state resident. In the US, average annual in-state tuition amounted to $9,037, and out-of-state tuition was $25,657 in the 2017-18 school year, says the NCES [5].

Online vs. in-person: The average public online bachelor’s program tuition costs $38,496 for in-state students and $60,593 at private ones, according to US News—that’s total, not per year [6]. Online degrees eliminate relocation and transportation costs and offer enough flexibility for people who want to work full- or part-time.

How Much Do Teachers Make

Taking Your Education Career a Degree Further

After earning your bachelor’s degree and state teacher certifications, you may decide to go on to earn a master’s degree in education. If you’ve been teaching for a few years, a master’s degree in education administration could prepare you for the role of Principal or Vice Principal, or a master’s degree in special education can prepare you to offer specialized support to students if you’re looking for another way to make a difference in your school community, you might decide to pursue a master’s degree in school counseling.

Master’s degrees are generally at least 30 credits and can be taken online or in a traditional classroom setting. The number of classes you take at one time can determine the amount of time it takes you to complete your master’s degree.

No matter what degree you seek, as a teacher, you’re destined to be a lifelong learner. With every new subject or lesson you teach, your perspective will change and grow. Throughout your teaching career, there are going to be new strategies to try, new regulations to implement, and new research on how to better reach students. Communicating with fellow teachers, collaborating on lessons, and checking in with students will help you become the teacher you aspire to be.


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