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Six Reasons Why You Shouldn't Go Back to School

Mar 3, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 2 Comments

If you left school without finishing your degree—or if you’re contemplating a move to graduate school—you may be hearing a lot of positive reinforcement. Going back to school is often pitched as the cure-all for common job dissatisfaction: a better degree leads to a better job, a better salary and a better life. In many cases, this is true. But going back to school isn’t always the best move for everyone.

Here are a few instances where you should think twice before going back to school—especially as a working adult or a nontraditional student.

You don’t know what you want to do

Traditional college students can often afford to attend school without a strong focus. With parents paying a lot of the bills and not enough financial experience to truly understand the effects all those loans will have later, many traditional students feel free to explore different paths and choose a degree they love—not necessarily something that will make them money. If you’re paying your tuition bill on your own, have to support yourself while you go to school, or are an older student with a family to support and not as much time on the job market to make up for mistakes, you don’t have a lot of freedom to explore.
If you want to find yourself, there are cheaper ways to do
it than going back to school.

Reasons for Not Going Back to School.

Going back to school can be a worthwhile investment in your future—or it could be an expensive mistake.



You just want to learn. Learning is a noble pursuit in and of itself.

But if you want to go to grad school or get your college degree just because you think it would be fun, think again. It won’t be fun paying off all those loans when you get out—and a lucrative job isn’t necessarily going to be waiting for you on the other side of your educational adventure. If you like to learn, take some free open courseware or classes at your local community center. Read books and watch the History Channel. Take educational vacations or audit classes at your local college. Don’t put yourself in debt.

You’re bored and want to try another career

Being bored in your career is one thing. But putting yourself in huge amounts of debt to change it is something else entirely. If you have your eye on a different career, do some research before going back to school. Do you need that degree to make a start? Try getting an entry-level job or volunteering in your industry of choice before going back to school, if it’s possible. This will give you time to decide if it’s really for you—and possibly convince your employer to pay for your degree.

You want to network and make connections

You can form valuable connections in school, but if this is the main reason you want to go, you may want to re-evaluate. You may or may not make the kind of connections you need at school—this is often up to chance. Professors may have strong industry connections, or they may have been in academia for decades without maintaining those connections. If you want to network, network. Join your local Chamber of Commerce. Go to industry events. There are plenty of ways to make business connections without paying thousands in tuition.

Everyone else you know is going to school

If everyone you know has an advanced degree, you may feel like you should have one, too. But everyone else isn’t in your situation. Can you afford the time and money it takes to earn a degree? And what will your employment prospects look like once you have one? Most importantly, do you need an advanced degree to achieve your goals? It may be that your goals in life are different from those of your friends and family.

You hate working and you like school

Many new college graduates head to graduate school after only a year or two in the work force—enough time to get disillusioned and miss the collegiate environment. But give work time to grow on you. Your first few jobs out of school may not be much fun, but eventually you’ll find a job you can’t wait to go to every morning. If it’s the industry and career path you’re questioning, consider what transitional skills you may already have—you may not need to go back to school to change careers.

Going back to school can be a worthwhile investment in your future—or it could be an expensive mistake. Think long and hard before you sign up for classes. Question whether you need that advanced degree and whether it will pay off for you in the long run. There are many ways to achieve your goals—and getting an advanced degree may be only one of them.




Jeff Bochsler Over a year ago

This is excellent, Jennifer. I'm a big believer in making the most of one's transition periods in life. If you really hate your job or know it isn't what you want to be doing long term, see about creating a 3 - 6 month gap for transition. Save up as much money as possible going into it, get a second job if you need to, like a couple nights at a restaurant or consulting gig. Spend this time exploring options, learning, networking, or, my favorite, working or volunteering in another country. You will gain perspective, pick up new skills, perhaps a language, and be much clearer about where you are headed. Living in many other countries can be cheaper than staying home. ...I chose to skip the MBA track, told my manager I was going to quit and she came back with a "why don't you take a leave of absence for personal travel?" so you have a job to return home to. I had no idea this was possible. I spent 4 months in South America half of which volunteering for a microfinance organization ( and the other half developing relationships with professors, students, and entrepreneurs in Brazil, working with monkeys in Ecuador, and learning how to scuba dive. I recognize this isn't available for everyone, but the point is to support Jennifer's article above. There are many less traditional paths that will sharpen your focus, connect you with those of interest, enhance your skill set, and ultimately get you where you want to be, without requiring $100K for an MBA.

All the best to you.

Ben Pfeiffer Over a year ago

That's a great point, Jeff! Negotiating a leave of absence
from your job rather than quitting outright is a great strategy--sometimes companies
don't advertise these benefits and you won't know what's possible unless you
ask (or your boss tells you). At any rate, it's worth it to ask!

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