Maybe you loved back-to-school time as a kid: the smell of new crayons for sale in the store, the thrill of picking out the very best first-day-of-school outfit, the fun of meeting your new teacher and seeing the friends you missed over the summer.
Or maybe you hated school and everything about it. But regardless of our experiences, many folks hit a point in adulthood where we ask ourselves the question: “Should I go back to school?”
We may wonder if further training or education could help us earn more money. Or maybe we’re thinking of changing careers. I’ve been there, and I understand.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you feel the itch to go back to school.
Do I want to start an entirely new career?
The answer to this question may be “yes”— if so, good on you! My younger brother majored in business administration and then worked in the corporate sector for a few years. He got bored pretty quickly, began listening to podcasts about health and wellness and found himself drawn in.
He went to the library to check out books on anatomy, physiology, and biology, a smart move for a cash-strapped recent college graduate. He decided to become a registered nurse, choosing a community college for the first couple of years, as it was more affordable. Later, he completed his four-year degree via online courses while working full-time. Now, he has two bachelor’s degrees and is on his way to a master’s degree in public health through online study at a highly competitive state university.
Takeaway: If you feel drawn to a career that requires technical training or certification, returning to school may not only be fun—it may be a legal requirement.
Do you really need a graduate degree?
I was a high school teacher who had always wanted to be an author. While student teaching in the Bronx during graduate school at Teachers College at Columbia University, I realized I wanted to try comedy. Thankfully, I didn’t need to go to the University of Laughter (or get a graduate degree in theater arts) to do that.
I took a few classes in sketch writing at the People’s Improv Theater in New York, a school and theater for sketch, improv, and stand-up comedy. I performed a lot, wrote a lot, and worked different day jobs to support my habit until it began to support me back.
Takeaway: Before you leap into a new career, try taking a couple of courses to see if you like what you learn. That may be all you need to start off in a new direction.
How would I pay for this new degree?
Let’s say you realize you do need to head to school to get a degree, certificate, or professional license. How are you gonna pay for this? Will you be able to work and go to school? Taking out loans to pay for school is a serious decision, especially if you’re still paying off your undergraduate college degree.
Talk to folks who’ve completed the training you seek. How did they do it? Were they subsidized by a parent or partner? Did they take out loans, or receive financial assistance because they pursued a specific program that has more funding available? Learn as much as you can about how people have paid for their continuing education in your field. It’ll provide a basis for you to use as a comparison.
Takeaway: Not everyone is in the same boat financially. Will it still be worth it, or will the stress of paying for that Ph.D. overwhelm the joy of getting it? Only you can figure that out. Money isn’t everything—but it sure is something to consider.
How much time would this whole “school thing” take?
Even if you manage to get free tuition to your school of choice, you’ll still have to spend another valuable resource—time. How much are you willing to commit?
I have a journal that says, “Time You Enjoy Spending Is Not Wasted Time,” and I believe that’s true. If you feel happier after doing a particular activity, that was probably time well spent. You’ve got no way of knowing for sure if that Master of Science in Archaeology will help enhance your daily joy. But if your gut is pointing you in that direction, it’s worth figuring out the toll it’ll take on you in time and money.
Takeaway: Going back to school can be a fantastic move, but only if it is grounded in a realistic understanding of the pros and cons. It isn’t a way to recapture lost youth, and in the long term, it will not fill the void of a job loss, relationship loss, or other major change that requires grieving.
Don’t jump back into school as an impulsive move
Choose graduate school because it will ultimately add value to your life, financially and otherwise. Take your time, meditate or pray on it, talk to people with sound judgment, and make the call that’s right for you.