Back to School Again?

With the economic downturn of the last few years, many people who had been in the workforce for decades (often at the same long-term company) have found themselves unemployed and wondering where to go from here. Others have seen their work hours cut or pay grades cut as overall profitability in their business declines. My own household saw this as my husband’s job was cut with his employer and we struggled for over a year seeking full-time work for him.

When prospects seem grim, one option many have chosen is returning to school for a degree (or another degree). Is it the right idea and right time for you? Let’s look at some of the pros and cons:

Benefits of going back to school as an adult:

  • You have wisdom on your side! While many first-time students spend years (and lots of dollars) choosing a major and life-direction, an older student tends to be focused and take only courses that are needed to help them achieve their goal. That saves time and money!
  • For those desperately needing an influx of income, student loans can provide much-needed funding to pay housing and food as well as college costs.
  • While school is costly, it still holds true that those with college degrees earn more on average than those who do not.
  • Having been in the job market before, it is often easier for adults to see the benefit of networking than a first-time freshman. A university campus can be a great place to find a mentor, a co-op employer, or reference.

Drawbacks of returning to school:

  • The cost. Particularly for those who are unemployed, there is no way to pay for college costs out of pocket, which means getting back into debt (or further into debt if you hadn’t paid them all off before). Repayments eat into your disposable income if/when you land that great job.
  • Do you need the degree? I’ve had several people with a bachelor’s degree in my office who are strongly considering going back for a second in a different field. For many (myself included!) who enjoy learning, going back to school can be a sanctuary of acceptance after the rejections of the employment battlefield. But unless you have a job lined up that is requiring a specific degree, you may want to think twice. Many employers will accept a degree in a loosely related field if you have experience.
  • Can you get the education another way? On-the-job training. Self-taught through books and training modules online. Volunteer work. All of these can be cheap or free options to get the same information as you would in costly classes. If what you need most is just to brush up on your computer programming skills, for example, using online resources and a friend to keep you accountable can be much more cost effective than paying a professor and university.
  • Will you be able to use the degree? Are there openings in the field you’re interested in? And will you have the physical and mental readiness to pursue it? As another corollary to this, I’ve seen several people who are seeking to go to school while filing for disability. The student loan gives them the funding needed in the short run until approval, but accepting $40,000 of debt with a fixed income plus (at best) part-time work is setting yourself up for financial struggles.
  • Can you invest the time? I envy the “free time” of first-time college students who can devote the full day to classes and study. With a family including two children and work myself, giving classes the time they deserve is almost untenable. For those who are unemployed, I always say the same thing: Your real goal is finding meaningful work that pays enough to support yourself and your family. Continue to seek employment while in school and if you are offered work, take it. While it is the harder choice, your school life has to fit around work life and not the other way around.

If you wonder whether returning to school is an option for your budget, or if you find yourself struggling with student loans already, Apprisen may be able to help you determine your options. We are always only a phone call or click away!

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