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Lyd Explains: Should I Go Back to School?

My mother and I at my College Graduation 
As many people are, I am blessed with a degree that I am not currently employed in. My bachelors is in Animal Science with a focus in Biology and Chemistry from the College of Agriculture at Penn State...... Though I love my degree and still have a heavy interest in science, I have settled into a career in Finance. While I work out my career path I often ask myself "Do I want to go back to school?".

There are so many types of programs to expand your education, degrees and certificates for all education levels. I love the program level diversity, it gives you the landscape and flexibility to spend and learn what you want. Below I have some questions that I have been asking myself as I decide to go to back to school and choose a program.

What am I trying to gain by going back to school? Be honest with yourself on this. Going back to school is only for you. If you want a higher salary or a specific title then be sure to keep that goal in mind as you search. Just make sure to research that the program selected will fulfill the qualification for that job or salary level.

What type of job am I gaining more education for? Look on a few job websites for the job you want next or in 10 years to get an idea of the qualifications that are needed for that type of position. This exercise will also allow you see what salary to expect that job to earn.

Should I go to school full time or part time? Full-time schedule is 4 to 5 classes per semester requiring about 5 house of work each (30 hours~). Part-time is half that commitment or less. This question will depend on your time and transportation access, also if you have an internet-connect computer. Also consider if you can afford to work part-time instead of full-time so you can go to school full-time. There are programs that offer additional loans to cover living expenses so that you can study full-time and not work. These loans can be a great tool to finish a program quickly, this benefit must be balanced with understanding the additional debt that is also gained.

Should I go to school in person or online? Going to class in person can require a portion of transportation time that could be challenging. Online often allows you to do weekly lessons on your schedule, by a specific time period. This offers a lot of flexibility but requires a level of discipline too. For most adults returning to school going part-time online is the best fit so you can still work and keep a flexible schedule.

How much do I want to spend? Education programs vary largely in tuition and additional costs. When setting a budget consider your current level of debt, your employers sponsored programs (and their conditions) and your eligibility for scholarship/grants. Don't forget to consider any tax incentives you may get for enrolling.

How long do I want to be in school for? Consider the other goals you have planned for the next few years and plan how the time commitment of going to school would fit into your goals.

What type of program should I choose? Due to the greatness of technology there are so many different types of programs. There are full graduate degrees and certificates, and just as there are bachelor degrees there are certificates at that level as well. When picking a program category consider your current work experience and level of knowledge on the subject you want to study. An extensive program may or may not be needed.

What does are the programs admission requirements? Consider your prior education results, recommendations and placement tests needed to apply. Be strategic when checking the list of application requirements. If I don't meet the admission requirements then I am not going to apply to that program.

I have chosen a few programs I like, now what? Before applying do some research for people that have taken the program. Feel free to creep on professional networking sites for people that have taken the program. A lot of programs offer sessions to learn more about the program and speak to people enrolled, take advantage of them.

In my example, I am almost 30, have a very social lifestyle and have many plans to travel in the future. I am still paying off about $50,000 in debt from college and credit cards. Due to my current debt level I want to minimize any more debt, my budget for continuing my education is a hard $5,000 out-of-pocket. I calculated this number based on my income and saving ability. For me, part-time online classes fit into my lifestyle as getting to classes could be challenging and I need to still work so full-time education is not for me. Doing this quick analysis has given me a great start to my research and understanding my needs.

I hope these tips and questions are helpful in your search for higher education! I have taken my sweet time deciding when or even if I want to go back to school. I have been strict in not accepting any outside pressure to rush into a decision to go too. The time needed to select a program can take weeks to a year or even longer depending on your needs. The single most thing I focus on in my search is "Will this program get me where I want to go in my career?". If you ask yourself this along the way you can keep yourself on track to your goal.

Good Luck and Happy Learning. Please post questions and your own tips in the comments below. Thanks for reading!