10 things to think about before going back to college

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I just got an email from Barbara asking if she should go back to college to get a more marketable degree. She had a degree in Theater Design, and, as you can imagine, that's not necessarily a field with high demand. 

So the question is, should she go back to school, or shouldn't she? If you, like Barbara, have a degree in something that seems unmarketable, or if you lack a degree altogether, here are ten things to think about before enrolling in college.

1. Who will pay for this? When you were 18 or 19, you'd definitely ask mom and dad for some help. But if you're older and have been working for a while, or staying home with the kids, mom and dad aren't as likely to help out. This means it will fall on your shoulders (or your shoulders and your spouse's). Whether it's through writing a check for tuition or taking out a loan, you will be responsible for the bill. You may qualify for some grants and scholarships, so look there, but remember, the remaining balance will come out of your pocket.

2. Are you already in debt? If your credit cards are maxed out and your house is under water, now is not a good time to go back to school. College costs money, lots of money. Adding to your debt is not the best use of your spare time. Instead, consider trying to find a second job to pay down the debt before going back to school.

3. Are you sure you know what you want to do with your life? If you've got gobs of cash lying around, then sure, a degree in anything is an enriching experience. If you're going back to school because you want a better job, do you know what kind of job you want? After all, Barbara's degree hasn't opened the doors she thought it would. College will still be there when you figure out what you want to do.

4. Is a four year degree necessary for what you want to do? If you want to be a Certified Public Accountant, then yes, you need a degree. Or, do you want to be a high school teacher? Yes, you need a degree there too. But, if you, for example, want to be a grocery store manager...well, a degree in business would be helpful, but it's not one hundred percent necessary. The lesson here: Before you go through the effort and expense, find out  if a college degree is really necessary.

5. Have you talked with your mentor? What? You don't have one? Find one. If you know what career you want, find someone who does that and ask them how they got there. You may be surprised to find out that they didn't take the path you think they did. 

6. Do you have the time? If you've got kids, a job, a spouse, or even just a job (which you'll need to keep to keep your debt low), will you have time to do all the classes and homework? It will take a considerable amount of time out of your day. Can you work your classroom schedule around your job? Will your boss be understanding when you cut out right at 4:30 on Tuesdays in order to get to class?

7. Would something different be better? Four year degrees are great, and have been what we strive for (and what we tell our kids to strive for), but they are not the be all, end all. Two year degrees are cheaper and they can result in higher incomes. Investigate your local community college and see what it offers.

8. Will this bring you happiness? It might! Or, it might not. Everyone can run the numbers and play the odds on getting a job with a shiny new degree, but only you can decide if this is something that will really make you happier. Meanwhile, if you dropped out of college your junior year, going back and finishing might bring you great joy, even if you don't "use" the degree. 

9. Have you thought about MOOCs? What's a "MOOC?" It stands for "Massive Online Open Course" -- an open online course offered by a university. Some of them are free. Some of them cost money. Some provide certificates if you finish the course. You can gain all sorts of knowledge at a greatly reduced cost, and with a certificate, can show a future employer that yes, you do know about [complex subject].

10. If you've worked through this list and you still find you want to do it, then go for it. You can get a four year degree! You can get great grades. You can do it part time or full time. You can accomplish your dreams, but make sure they are your dreams (not your high school English teacher's), and you'll be good to go. Best of luck to you.

Have a question about what will help your career? Send an email to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.

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