Thursday, July 28, 2011

Should You Go Back to School?

When I graduated from college you could not have gotten me back in a classroom for any amount of money. Nope. Could not have paid me to go back to school. I was done. Kaput. Enough. No more term papers, no more boring lectures, no more studying for stuff I didn't care about.

Flash forward many years and the career I loved -- journalism -- was going down the toilet faster than a dead goldfish. I admit I considered going back to school. But, to study what? What else did I want to do? Was it worth the investment of time and money?

Fortunately, I've been able to survive as a journalist, and feel blessed every day. But should I still consider going back to school? It's a question explored in this column I did for Gannett/USAToday:

The question more midcareer people are facing these days is should I go back to school?

Dr. Mary B. Hawkins, president of Bellevue University in Nebraska, says that many mid-career adults first need to make an honest assessment of their industry when thinking about returning to school.

Finding the answer to such a question can be difficult because a myriad of issues are involved. The investment of time and money weighs heavily on those who may have limited resources and lots of family obligations. Or it can be simply a question of whether more education will pay off in getting a better job or help employment prospects in the future.

The question more midcareer people are facing these days is should I go back to school?

"Maybe the industry you're in won't last until your retirement like you had planned," she says. "But maybe you have skills that can be redirected in other ways."

For example, if you've been a writer and find opportunities waning, consider turning your communication skills to social media, a hot industry these days, Hawkins says.

"What you may need may be some different skills, but not an entirely new degree," she says. "Look at what related skills you have that can be transferred to an industry that is thriving. Or, maybe you don't need to go back to school but need an internship or a certification. In some cases, you may need to go back to school and get a degree if you're pursuing a new career field."

Before going back to school to pursue a new path, she also says you should try to meet with hiring managers in the field you're considering.

"Ask them what kinds of skills you need for that industry. When you're just asking questions to gain an understanding, people are really pretty good about being honest with you," she says.

Don't immediately dismiss the thought of going back to school because of financial constraints. Hawkins says many scholarships and grants are available for displaced workers, and schools should have information available on how to apply for such opportunities.

"Schools with a good program for adult learners will find ways to work with you," she says. "But any school you choose should be very clear with you about the debt you're going to take on."

Hawkins also advises that adults considering going back to school should:

Look for convenience. Many schools now offer online courses that make it easier for adult learners with family obligations.

Administrators, faculty, tutors and advisers should be flexible and willing to meet with you when you're not working. The school library should have extended hours.

"Those colleges that are really geared toward adult learners will support your schedule," she says.

Not feel guilty. Maybe you worry that taking courses will take time away from your children, but Hawkins says the opposite may be true.

"It's often very inspirational for the family to see you go back to school," she says. "You and your children can do your homework together. You can show them how much you value education. You should see the pride in the children when their parents walk across the stage (to receive a diploma)."

Do your due diligence. "You wouldn't contract with a homebuilder unless you know he knows how to build homes, would you? You'd ask others about his work, wouldn't you? The same thing is true for schools," she says.

Specifically, she advises doing more than looking at a school's website. Make sure the school is accredited and that past students have good things to say.


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