Saturday, June 11, 2011

Are you thinking of taking up studies again?
Decide what you’d like to gain from continuing your education - will a degree help you in your current role, serve as a career advancement tool for the next job change or provide credentials to move into a different line of work?

Several years ago I quit college because I got a good full-time job. Now I wish I hadn’t because I think my lack of degree is holding me back. What should my next steps be?

Decide what you’d like to gain from continuing your education; this will help determine your next steps.

First of all, if you’re coming down on yourself for leaving college, let it go. Whether it was a good decision, whether you’d do it again, it’s in the past. It may have been the right decision then; personal needs evolve, so it’s time to move forward.

Then focus on what you’re hoping to gain from earning your degree. It sounds as if your interest is based on gaining a professional credential. Does this mean becoming better qualified for your existing role or a progression upon it, or does it mean having the credentials to move into a different line of work? And, are your expectations for what a degree will yield in terms of career advancement realistic?

Consider, too, your intellectual interests. The sweet spot would be the intersection between credential and passion – does the degree you’re considering meet this test? If not, take some time to consider what you’d study if practicality didn’t play a part. Then explore whether there is a way to bring those together. If not, that’s fine; you just don’t want this to turn up as a surprise source of dissatisfaction later.

Once you’ve determined that a degree will, indeed, provide the career advancement you seek, where, when and how become some of the “going back to school” questions to focus on.

In terms of where, start with the school that you attended in the past, and determine whether it’s a good fit. Even if you choose not to go back there, they may have services to help you, so it’s worth contacting them.

If you choose a different school based on programme content or location, investigate their admissions requirements, examine the programme in-depth, and ask them to review your past course work to determine how much will apply. This can have major cost and time implications, so it’s worth the attention. Also, don’t pin your hopes on one school — identify a short list to pursue.

Next important issue: when will you go? Do you envision an evening and weekend programme? Many are now available for adult learners. Or, do you have the flexibility to do a more traditional programme? Either way, make sure that you plan enough time in your schedule for studying, while not neglecting family, friends or your health.

Finally, think about how to pay for it. Some companies offer tuition assistance, so check this out with your employer. Explore grants and, if you need to, student loans. Again, your past or prospective institute will have resources to help you through this. Build in personal support, too, both at home and at work. You’re taking on a major challenge, so you’ll need people backing you.

Going back to class can be very rewarding, but it pays to plan it carefully to ensure your success.

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