We all know the value of education – or do we? A lot has been said about the problems of student loans, but even if you’re able to afford to go back to school on your own dime, is it a worthy investment of your time and money? Getting more education isn’t always the same as getting ahead.

The Great Recession has taught us a lot about career planning and making the most of what you know and your skill set. In many cases skills and knowledge were integral to keeping a position, taking on more responsibility or perhaps finding another job quickly when layoffs occurred. But many other individuals found themselves without a career and without a pathway to find one.

For many of these individuals in need of new skills, they sought out more education as a pathway to success. What some discovered, however, is that education isn’t always an investment in your future – it can actually weigh you down if you fail to plan your next career move carefully.

The Education Bubble

We’ve heard about student loans. We’ve heard about the large numbers of recent graduates who are struggling to find jobs – but individuals going back to school have an advantage over the new graduates. You have work experience and a resume that has already been built. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t find yourself in the same situation as the 22-year-old down the street if you make the wrong choices about college.

The education bubble is a term being tossed around in relation to the sheer volume of student loan debt that can accumulate from a degree. It also encapsulates the sheer volume of individuals finishing with degrees that don’t lead to careers. For example only half of the graduates leaving law school can find work as a lawyer. Many leave school with more than $100,000 in debt and no prospects for employment.

One element that isn’t discussed often with lawyers and other recent graduates who can’t find a job is the value of the degree they are getting. It’s not a recent development that half of new lawyers can’t find a job. It’s been that way for more than ten years. The same is true for students with degrees in the humanities or general business. While it’s hard to put a value on education as a whole, companies aren’t always clambering for the latest psychology major when there is a shortage of engineers and electricians out there.

Choosing a Suitable Degree Plan

Going back to school can be a brilliant idea as you look to advance your career. But to make it a wise choice you must choose a path that is likely to pay off for you. If you already have a career and you’re working with a steady company, going back for a masters degree or finishing up your bachelors may result in greater opportunity and paychecks regardless of the degree program in some cases.

If you’re unemployed, however, taking out four years of loans to get a long degree may leave you farther in the financial hole than you were previously if you choose a degree plan that is not highly sought after by employers. You may do better to start a certificate program in something that can be done quickly, is in demand and pays enough for a living wage. Once you’re reestablished in a career, you can easily continue to move up and around using additional educational opportunities.

For example, a degree in general business gives you some credentials, but not defined skills. A program in bookkeeping or basic accounting allows you to walk into an office with skills ready to go. The same is true for a degree in computer systems. You may have better luck finding a job with a specific certificate in Cisco or a specific programming language rather than a general degree lacking in specific skills.

Building Connections

Of course, there is a different element of education outside of the actual degree you’re seeking. When you go back to school, there is a significant benefit in networking as well. Attending a school near your community, for example, will position you nicely for career fairs hosted by the campus as well as job postings and community events offered in conjunction with companies in the area.

Often finding a job is not just about looking good on a resume or having a degree. It’s a combination of having skills and knowing people in the places you want to go. If you do choose to go back to school, move forward cautiously to choose a plan that will help build your future, advance your career and allow you to network and reach out with the academic and local community as well.


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