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Why The Recession is a Perfect Time to Go Back to School

Apr 6, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

If you’re worried about getting a job in the recession, maybe you should stop trying. No, we’re not advocating giving up on your career—but we do suggest boosting your skills to give yourself a better edge in the job market. The outlook might be grim for jobs—but it’s a great time to go back to school. Here’s why.

Because you’re not likely to miss out on high wages

Going back to school full-time can be a difficult decision for some students, because—unless you’re going back to school for an online degree, which many workers choose to do—you may be required to cut back on work or quit your job entirely for the time you’re in school. The cost of school for full-time workers can be measured in lost wages now, in addition to tuition and student loan interest bills later.

But even for those lucky enough to have a job, wages in this economy are stagnating. Financially, going to school now rather than later may be a good decision—assuming that wages will be higher in a few years.

A student is protesting the loss of her college financial aid benefits

Tough times call for creative ideas to stay in college. Students are feeling the far reaching effects of the downturn with some having to stay in school longer instead of applying for a job. Many just have to scrape by and search harder for money for college.

Because the job market is down

Unemployment is increasing. In February of 2009, the number of unemployed adults in the United States was tallied at over 12 million—that’s an 851,000 increase over 2008 rates. If you’re currently unemployed—and especially if you’re looking for a job in manufacturing, luxury services, or other industries that are particularly hard-hit during the recession—maybe your time would be better spent increasing your skills than searching for a job in a difficult employment situation.

Because knowledge is increasingly important

There’s no question that knowledge is going to be an important commodity in tomorrow’s economy. Jobs that require little education are increasingly being outsourced and automated, and with an influx of Bachelor’s degrees over decades, many career counselors advocate advanced degrees for workers who want to stand out from the crowd. Get your degree now, and you’ll be poised to participate fully in a knowledge-based economy as a highly valued worker.

Going back to school during a time of economic recession may be a strong choice. In a time of plummeting job opportunities and stagnating wages, it may be a better financial decision to cut back on work now rather than later in the interest of boosting your skills—and it’s definitely better to earn a degree  than to stay jobless. But going back to school won’t be easy for everyone in the next few years. Here are a few things you should know about returning to school during a recession.

Competition is strong

During times of economic hardship, competition for entry into advanced degree programs gets tougher. That’s because, in the absence of good job opportunities, lots of people decide to wait out the tough times in school. Be prepared for a tougher-than-usual admissions process for medical schools, law schools, undergraduate and graduate colleges.

Have a strong plan

Colleges aren’t looking for people who just want to wait out the economy, however. If you want to stand out from the crowd of applicants, you’ll need to demonstrate that going back to school is part of a cohesive career plan—not just your fall-back plan. Outline what you want to achieve in your career and how your new degree will help you get there.

Talk to your employer about financing

During this recession, student loans are more difficult to come by than they used to be. Banks are funding less and they’re offering worse terms. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go to school—it just means you may have to get creative about funding.

If you work full-time, consider talking to your employer about a tuition reimbursement program. It’s not unusual for companies to be willing to finance their employees’ education as an investment in their workforce, and your company may already have such a program in place. If not, present your case to your boss—and you might be able to get your tuition payments reduced or eliminated.

It’s never an easy choice for a full-time worker to go back to school. But in this economy, the decision may be easier to make than usual. Graduate with your new degree in hand, and you’re likely to be more marketable in the new economy.


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