I have a lot of students and coaching clients ask me about going back to school. Either to finish a degree they once started or to start a new program, such as graduate school. I love to talk about the possibilities!
But I also hear a lot of mistakes in thinking when people are considering their options.
Here's the list with details about how mindset shifts can help reshape the question or concern.
1. I don't want to go anywhere that requires test scores.
I get why people say this one. They don't want to take another standardized test. Not to mention pay for something like the GRE and spend an entire Saturday taking it. I get it. But choosing what kind of program you might want to pursue solely based on whether or not they require testing? That is a short-sighted mistake. Instead, think about whether or not this program will help advance your career and understanding of the field.
One standardized test should not stand in the way of your potential for a program or not. There are many helpful books and flashcards on the market with practice tests. Finding a partner to study with can also be beneficial to keep you motivated before test day.
2. I have to pay for all of this education myself.
Are you sure? And I don't mean asking family or friends for assistance. But maybe your current employer would be willing to consider it as a professional development? Especially if you plan to stay with the organization, but would like to move up? Try asking them before dismissing the idea.
There are also several opportunities for assistantships and stipends at the graduate level. Many times my students are surprised to hear that graduate programs want people to work for them while they go through the degree program. Your potential program may not advertise it directly on their website, but it is important to ask admissions or the program director about potential opportunities.
Scholarships for all types of learners are also an excellent way to help pay some of the costs of a new education program. They aren't just for high school students. Scholarships can be in the most surprising places too. My electric company even offers scholarships!
Don't forget potential tax deductions for any loans you take out to further your education. Again, there are several ways to finance an education, even if it is beyond the traditional four-year degree right after high school.
3. My local university does not offer the program I want to take, so I can't do anything.
Here's another mindset shift - what if you didn't take courses at the local university? What if your new education program was offered online? While it doesn't seem like a revolutionary idea in 2016 to be taking online courses, I still get a lot of questions surrounding the idea. My students ask me if "online programs" are looked down on by potential employers. With our increasing capabilities to Skype and connect with people across the globe, the online classroom is quickly changing. People can be engaged in meaningful conversations and discussions in online learning environments very easily now.
The confusion really stems from for-profit schools. 10-15 years ago, it seemed like only for-profit schools were the ones online. Now almost all schools are online. So read up on the type of institution you might be considering before dismissing online learning. Not everyone feels like an online learning environment would be a good fit for them, but I recommend trying a free online course (from anywhere) to test one out.
4. I don't have anything else to do, so I might as well go back to school.
I also see this phrased as, "I'll keep going to school because once I stop, I'll never go back," and "I can't find a job, so I'll go back to school." Using these phrases to justify more schooling can be difficult because it might not be the root of the problem. If more education seems like the default choice with no other options, it will be really hard to keep the motivation to keep going in that program. And you may find yourself in the exact same situation after you graduate.
Nothing else to do? Are you absolutely sure? Have you spent some time on informational interviews with people in the field? Are many people in your life recommending that you go back to further your career? Or are you defaulting to the decision? Avoid the default. Go into the decision with purpose and passion.
5. More education always means more job opportunities and a higher salary.
Well, that depends. What type of education are you planning on getting? Have you looked into the job opportunities in your area for someone with that level of education? My favorite resource for exploring these details is O*Net Online. You can look up any job and see how much education is typically required, all based on the U.S. Department of Labor statistics. Some graduate programs actually limit your choices in jobs, if you want to apply the degree directly to your career. For example, medical school prepares you to be a medical doctor. Sure, you can do other things and many people pursue other options. But compared to a bachelor's degree in biology...the person with a bachelor's degree in biology has a larger variety of jobs they can apply for compared to the medical doctor.
So more education isn't always better for your career and salary opportunities. Of course, I always think "learning" is good for everyone! But that's not always the same as formal education programs.
What do you think?
What other things do you ask yourself when you consider going on for more education? Any other barriers you see in your way? Comment below!