It’s that time of year again! Whether you have kids or not, chances are your Facebook feed is filling up with adorable back-to-school pictures of children hitting the books for yet another school year. And with Labor Day right around the corner, there’s something crisp and refreshing about the idea of new beginnings – including for your career.
So, if going back to school is on the brain, here are several things to consider when deciding if it’s really the right time for you.
1. Do you have the time? Start doing some due diligence in terms of programs you’re researching. Do you have time to pursue a part-time MBA program at night and, if so, how many years will that take? Or how about an online certificate program? With the variety of programs available right now, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. But time is a precious commodity. Can you set aside time not only to attend classes but also to do homework, work on projects and speak with professors? Will you really get enough out of it if you’re just skating by, barely keeping up with your current workload while trying to land a promotion or look for a new job? If you have the academic itch, perhaps you should take one course this semester before plunging into a program to see how the time works with your already busy schedule. The key, of course, involves micromanaging your calendar to schedule time to study, as well as to log off and enjoy life.
2. Will this bolster your career? Does the specific program you’re looking at boost your skill set and knowledge base? What does the curriculum look like? How have alumni been able to leverage their degree to forge upward in their career? Reach out to the program’s administrators and/or career office to ask for alumni references to dig deeper into how this degree can play out in the long-term. Also, if you’re feeling stale right now in your job, there’s nothing like hitting the books and connecting with intelligent professors to up your game. Maybe you’re happy in your current role at work, but you’re just looking to bolster your intellectual capital, which may not require officially going back to school. The key to pursuing schooling is having a general idea of why you’re interested in the first place.
3. Will my company pay for it? Aside from asking yourself if you have enough time to focus on being a student as a full-time professional (or perhaps take a leave of absence to pursue schooling in the short-term), funds are of course another critical indicator. Will your department pay the bill? Some companies have a sliding scale based on grades, they’ll reimburse you 100% if you get an A, and it rolls downward for each grade to B to C and so on. Or they may only reimburse for some items and not others. Find out ahead of time what they will and won’t pay for. And if the policy currently indicates they don’t have a policy, ask your boss anyway. First, it shows that you’re pouring effort into your professional development and second, your boss may get creative in approving funds from the budget for your education. I’ve seen this happen! As a former corporate recruiter, I’ve seen companies without a formal reimbursement policy in place make exceptions for star performers. So, if your company doesn’t have a policy, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask about it!
4. Will I get anything out of it? As you’re exploring the ROI, figure out what you’re looking to get out of it. Yes, by now you should already know why you want to pursue another degree, but what are you looking to achieve? A stellar new line to the education section of your resume, a pay increase, a better job, more knowledge, all of the above? And then be realistic. Ask your boss if you attain this specific certificate or degree how it will boost your role – if at all.
5. Will it boost my pay? If your number one reason for getting a degree is to boost your pay, ask your current employer how this will impact your compensation. Chances are, it most likely won’t result in a significant bump as soon as you earn a diploma, but it is more likely to boost your pay when you decide to pursue an external opportunity. Consider this: According to 2014 Pew Center data, young workers with advanced degrees grew their salaries more than their peers with bachelor’s degrees.
Above all, do your research. Speak to colleagues who have pursued various programs, talk to your boss to see if this is in alignment with your goals and how it can impact your value for the company. Converse with your mentor to see if this specific program will boost your competitiveness externally. The decision is ultimately up to you, but with focused attention and research, hopefully clarity and answers will emerge. And if you decide to pass on the opportunity, just like your career, education can be a work in progress. You can always revisit the topic later!
This article was written by Vicki Salemi from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.