So You’re Thinking of Returning to School

Some experts suggest that people change their careers up to five times throughout their working life (although other experts dispute this). That means that people go in different occupational directions throughout their lifetime. I’ve seen family members and friends move from the corporate world to the educational world, engineering to graphic design, retail to real estate, and more. When working with adult students, the most common reason for them returning to school is to either complete their undergrad education, start their education, or get another degree in a different field as they transition careers. Too often, I’ve heard the term: It’s time for a change. While the change ends up encompassing more than just a career, it often starts with a degree. However, before you plunge into the world of academia and complete shift your life, let’s consider some reasons to do so.

Hitting the ceiling: You’ve reached a point in your career where current your degree can only do so much. Many students have entered or returned to school because they’ve hit a ceiling in their careers. While they received multiple promotions and gained years of experience, not having the right degree or a degree at all prevented them from progressing in their fields. At some point, when this happens, getting a college degree (or finishing one that was started a while ago) is exactly what is needed in order to move forward.

Wanting to complete a journey:  For adult students who have done well in their careers without a four-year degree, getting a college degree is simply something that they wanted to take on and complete for themselves. For these students, a college degree is an experience that does not need to be rushed, just enjoyed. One former student of mine took courses that she was interested in, even when they did not fit into her major. For her, she simply wanted to enjoy the learning after years of working for other reasons.

Changing careers: Aside from hitting a ceiling, some adult students are ready to change their  careers, and their previous degrees won’t work for their new lives. Sound familiar? For example, if one is moving into education, but has a degree in business, they’ll need to complete education courses, plus courses in whatever area they choose to teach (depending on the state and school). If one is moving from a non-scientific field to the medical field, a degree specific to that new field is necessary. Sometimes, there’s simply no way to get around a college degree, or graduate degree. In this case, be very clear with yourself about why you are getting your education and do the necessary research before diving in.

Wanting to explore: Don’t think that you can only enroll in an institution to get a degree. Sometimes it’s great to simply take classes in order to find out what you want to do. Doing so at a community college is a great money saver, but also a great way to test out what you may like. Community classes at four-year institutions, or special classes not tied to a degree, are also great and inexpensive ways to discover new talents and learn more about areas you make want to explore further.

Focus on skills, not major

Once you’ve decided why you’re returning to school, and you’ve decided that the only way to achieve your new goal is to get a degree, it’s time to decide what field is best for you. This is where deeper research comes in handy. Don’t guess which degree you should get, but do some investigating. Do you want to run a non-profit that focuses on micro-lending? There are various majors for that. While a major in Not-for-Profit Management is good, so is a major in Business Administration, Finance, English (yes, English), and others. It’s about the skills you will acquire, not necessarily the title of major because –to be honest- no major will teach you everything you need to know for a particular field. Only time, patience, and experience will teach you that. But, consider researching the kinds of skills and traits you’ll need to do the job you eventually want. Essentially, knowing the skills you’ll need will really help you choose the best major.

Regardless of the reason you choose to return to school, make sure that you are going for the right reasons and the right type of degree. Research all of your options before taking the plunge, and reach out to others for advice and words of encouragement.

Keep moving forward and enjoy the journey!

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