You’ve thrown around the idea of going back to school for years. You’ve heard about the benefits and opportunities college graduates enjoy, but you’re still not sure going back to school is right for you and if it is really even worth it. The decision to return to school as an adult can be a scary process especially if you do not have a family member, friend, or co-worker who can share their successful experience with you.
Yet with everyone else climbing the career ladder, you continue to wonder what else you can do to prove that you’re ready for a promotion. While everyone’s life situations are different, there are a few strategic questions you can ask yourself to help you make up your mind.
Here are 10 Questions to Help You Decide if You Should Go Back to School
1. Do you hate your work?
From our teens until retirement, we spend almost a quarter of our time at work. That’s too big of a chunk of our lives to give over to misery. If it’s truly the work you can’t stand, and not the boss or your current company, it’s time to retool.
As far as job satisfaction, the data on that are clear. A 2014 survey of more than 2,000 young adults by Pew Research Center found that up to 86 percent of Millennial college graduates say their job is a career or a stepping-stone to a career, while 42 percent of high school graduates regard their work as just a job that gets them by.
2. Would upgraded skills make you better at your job?
It used to be that on-the-job training could carry workers a long way. Contemporary hiring managers seek candidates with an array of skills from day one, and that often means more education is needed in order to get noticed.
3. Do you feel like you’re flailing as your industry changes?
Any journalist who graduated more than a handful of years ago knows the frustration of learning modern multimedia tools on the fly. Many computer science majors have experienced the same thing as specialization has become industry standard. The answer often is to return to the classroom and fill those knowledge gaps.
4. Are you considering a lateral move in your company?
You’ve been with the firm for a number of years, and it’s a great place to work, but you’d like to move out of your niche. In these cases, earning a business degree with a specialization such as marketing or project management can help you transition.
5. Are you stalled on the career ladder?
Sometimes the quickest way to end career inertia is to earn a degree. You’ll learn skills that bump you up the shortlist for promotion, and just as importantly, your commitment to completing the program will show higher-ups that you’re a thoughtful, deadline-oriented employee.
6. Are you unhappy with your pay?
That theater degree sounded like a great idea when you were 18 — you knew you weren’t likely to make it to Hollywood or Broadway, but performing was your passion. A few years down the road, though, too many meals of Ramen noodles have dampened the ardor.
This College Board report reinforces numerous other studies about the income impact of a college degree. Over the course of a lifetime, those with bachelor’s degrees will earn $1.65 for every $1 someone with just a high school diploma brings in. If you still love the work but hate the pay, consider earning a business degree that will let you move into the administrative side of a field where your passion lies.
7. Do you want a better future?
More than one aspiring professional has taken the hard look down the road and seen a time when their salary won’t stretch to cover dance lessons, soccer camp, and braces. Going back to college now gives working parents some breathing room before the serious expenses start piling up.
8. Have you always regretted not going to graduate school?
You’d thought about continuing your education after college, but maybe the money wasn’t there or you couldn’t decide what to study. The good news: It’s never too late to come back.
9. Do you want to inspire your kids?
It’s one thing to nag your kids about school. It’s quite another when you’re not asking them to do anything that you’re not willing to do yourself. You’ll also teach them perseverance and determination in addition to study skills.
10. Do you have a passion for learning?
For some people, there’s no greater thrill than the chance to learn something new or the opportunity to master a skill. If you fit that description, further education can be a fulfilling endeavor in and of itself.
There are almost as many reasons for going back to school as there are new students ready to start school each year. If you found yourself nodding your head in agreement to any of these 10 questions, perhaps the time is right for you to enroll, too.
Additional Approaches to Help you Decide
You have gone through the questions listed above and are now considering going back to school as an adult, but you are not sure WHEN the right time is to go back. If you think you want to return to college but aren’t sure if you are ready, take some time to consider these approaches to the decision-making process:
1. Reflect on the rubber ball approach
Consider your responsibilities. You may want to make a list in which you categorize the things that you consider glass and rubber balls, realizing that rubber balls bounce, while glass balls are marked by the impact. For example, if you are a parent or spouse, you are likely keenly aware of the limited time that you have to spend with your family.
Thus, for most of us family would be considered a glass ball, one that we simply cannot drop as our family would not be the same if we simply stopped interacting with them until the desired degree is complete. However, volunteering may be categorized as a rubber ball because you can postpone this commitment or decrease the frequency of your volunteering while you work toward your professional goal. Remember, rubber balls bounce back.
2. Implement the DOC approach
Delegate, Outsource, or Communicate (DOC) with others to ensure completion. Use this DOC approach as you review your glass ball category. As you complete this step, please be sure to give this process the time it deserves, truly reflecting on and listing your responsibilities.
One way to do this is to keep a daily log for one week and create a full and accurate overview of your responsibilities. For example, family is in the glass ball category for many people and it often has several components that require daily attention. There are often household responsibilities, physical, emotional, financial, childcare and/or carpool responsibilities, and several tasks that need to be addressed for each. This detailed type of consideration is imperative as many people attempt to avoid dropping glass balls that can be forever damaged.
When you review the list you created, delegate the responsibilities that you can (perhaps someone else in the household can do the laundry, for instance). Outsource things if you cannot delegate them within the household. For example, consider using grocery delivery services, childcare co-ops, etc. Communicate effectively and frequently, and lastly, share the journey with those around you.
3. Choose the right degree program
Finally, find a program that appeals to both your head and your heart. The University of Arizona Global Campus offers associate, bachelor’s, master's, and doctoral degrees in more than 85 programs that cover some of today’s in-demand fields including education, health care, information management, business administration, and environmental studies*. Many also offer specializations in more specific areas, allowing you to hone in on topics that will help you achieve your more defined goals.
At first, the decision to return to school may seem overwhelming, especially if you work and have a family or other responsibilities to tend to. Enrolling in a program from an online university allows you to throw away many of the stereotypes associated with an online degree. You think attending college at your age is non-traditional? So, is working on a project in your pajamas, so why not do both? You think you won’t be able to keep up?
Many online degree programs are set up so you know exactly what is due and when so you can work it into your schedule. You think college isn’t right for you because you struggled with high school? Think about how much you’ve learned since those teenage days and apply that experience to your degree program. Consider the ten questions and the three approaches we outlined today and you will come to a conclusion that best suits your needs and lifestyle.
Written by University staff
*Not all degrees are available in all 50 states.