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Do You Really Need a College Degree? Questions to Ask Before Going Back to School

Oct 11, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Education.org Columnist | 0 Comments

Going back to school is a risky endeavor. Sure, your new degree might get you a great new job. But it could also get you a load of debt and no job in sight in a difficult job market. Here are a few questions to ask to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

Do I need this degree to fulfill my goals?

Before going back to school, do some research into what types of degrees you see among people who hold the job you’re applying for. Sure, maybe an online Master’s degree could help you—or maybe if you hold a Master’s, employers will think you’re too expensive to hire. A higher degree doesn’t always help your chances, and a lot depends on the industry and what hiring managers expect from applicants. Before getting a degree, be sure it’s what you need.

Can I afford it?

College is expensive—and while an online degree might help you move forward, the debt you incur could hold you back, especially if you don’t land a job right away after graduation. Do some research here too. Add up your monthly expenses and the income you’ll be able to keep after enrolling in school—and figure out how much per month you could afford to pay in loans while still keeping afloat. Assume you’ll be making less after graduation, even though the ideal situation is you’ll be making more. Ask yourself how much you could afford to pay if the job you were going for doesn’t materialize right away—and don’t go to a college that’s too expensive.

How certain is the industry I’ll be going into?

Some industries will always be looking for new employees—such as the medical industry. Others that seemed like sure things a few years ago, however—such as teaching and the law—aren’t as dependable as they used to be. Are people getting hired quickly after graduation—or are there a lot of graduates with your planned degree waiting out the economy in lower-level jobs? 

What is my competition doing?

You won’t be applying to jobs in a vacuum. For every job, hiring managers often see dozens or even hundreds of resumes. Do the other people applying have Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees? Read some job ads online to see what employers are looking for in terms of education. It could be you don’t need that advanced degree—or you need an even more advanced one. 

How does my industry look at online degrees?

If you’re planning to go to school online, be sure you’re entering an industry where online degrees are well regarded. Online degrees are becoming more and more accepted these days across every field—but there are some, such as medicine, academia, and the law—that are holding to more conservative opinions. IF you’re entering a more conservative field, consider choosing a traditional school that offers an online degree.

Can I get my employer to pay for my education?

It might be that you do need that degree—but you should hold off on the timing of certain decisions. For instance, why quit your job to earn a degree when you could get your employer to pay for your tuition? Most tuition reimbursement programs require you to work for the company fro a certain period before leaving—but if you were planning to stay anyway, it might be a good decision. Don’t part ways with your current employer without exploring this option.

Getting a traditional or accredited online degree is risky, but choosing not to get one can also be a risk. If you’re sure of your career path and know you need a degree for it that you don’t currently have, then going back to school may be a good choice. But do some research first—and make sure that degree is one you need.

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