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4 Questions to Ask Before Going Back to School

If a career change is in the works or you’re looking to get ahead in your current field, advancing your education can give you the edge you need. Whether you’re going back to school to finish up a bachelor’s degree or tackle your master’s, you have to make sure you’re prepared for all the potential challenges. If you’re on the fence about whether becoming a student is the right move, here are some important questions to ask yourself before you start writing those admissions essays.

Find out now: Does It Make Sense For Me to Go Back to School?

1. What do I hope to achieve?

Entering a degree program without a clear idea of what your goals are is the wrong move at any age but it’s particularly dangerous if you’ve been in the workforce for awhile. If you’re going back to school as a distraction or you really don’t know what you want to do with your career you could be wasting time and money unnecessarily.

Thinking about how a specific degree can help you get to the next level professionally can give you an idea of whether you even need it. If you already have the right skills, ask yourself if additional education makes a difference when it comes to landing your dream job. If you’re not 100% convinced, it could be a sign that more schooling isn’t the answer.

2. How does going back to school fit with my lifestyle?

Going to school full-time is hard enough when you don’t have a job or a family to worry about but when you do, it becomes that much more difficult. Figuring out how to balance your education with your everyday life is a daunting challenge and if you’re not careful, something will inevitably fall through the cracks.

If you’re single, fitting in classes while working may mean sacrificing some of your free time. When you’re married or have children, you have to consider how it will impact the other members of your family. Even if you’re going back to school on a part-time basis, the added stress of your combined workload can quickly result in burnout.

3. How will I pay for it?

Unless you haven’t been paying attention at all you know that student loan debt in the U.S. has reached astronomical levels. Today’s graduates find themselves facing one of the toughest job markets in history while struggling with record amounts of debt. Unless you have no other option, financing your education should be a last resort.

What Will It Cost to Go to School?

Figuring out how to make school affordable may require a little research but it’s certainly doable. For example, you could check with your employer to see if they offer some type of reimbursement program. You may qualify for grants or scholarships, depending on your age, gender, ethnicity or field of study. There are also federal programs that offer student loan forgiveness for people who work in certain fields. Exploring every possible choice is the best way to ensure that going back to school doesn’t strain your budget.

4. Are there any alternatives?

Before you jump feet first into a degree program, it’s worth it to consider alternative ways for getting the skills and education you need. Attending professional seminars and workshops, taking online courses, volunteering or seeking out a mentor are all avenues for gaining valuable knowledge that don’t require such a significant investment. Sometimes all it takes is a creative and open-minded approach to get ahead.

In today’s competitive job market, the right degree can have a huge impact on your professional success. But while going back to school can certainly pay off it’s best to be sure it’s worth it before taking the leap (and writing the check!).

Photo Credit: flickr

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She's worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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