The decision to go back to school at any level or age entails a lot of debate. After all, it is a life changing situation that requires investing significant time and resources. To get started on your own reflection consider some of these pros and cons to include in your analysis of determining what's best for you - working or going back to college.
Many seasoned professionals who do not have their bachelor's degree likely began working straight out of high school and found that income outweighed the study time. Brandman University's 2014 Southern California commencement speaker Gordon Winn understands this perspective wholeheartedly. There are clear benefits to staying the course and committing to an established career path. Let's take a look at some pros and cons that go into revisiting the options later in life.
- Pro - There's nothing inherently wrong with the phrase "if it ain't broke don't fix it." Those with long standing careers worked hard to get where they are, they are successful and have steady jobs that they hopefully enjoy. All that sounds pretty good and often they have the benefits of attaining some level of seniority and plenty of vacation time, giving them the freedom to take off for a few long weekends here and there. Consider where you are in this scenario and determine how important it is in your life.
- Con - The word "consistent" has many different synonyms including expected, invariable, homogeneous, uniform and unchanging. Sometimes consistency can be a great thing and may provide a person a sense of security, but other times it may start to become a little boring. Think about what kind of mental stimulation your job gives you and decide if you are burnt out at work or happy with the expected routine.
- Pro - One of the first things that comes to mind when going back and forth on the situation is the price tag. Without school tuition, you can invest any variable profits into other experiences or capital like family trips, a new car, the stock market and more. You are not tied down to loan repayment and escape running the risk of being included as part of the $1.1 trillion bucket of outstanding student debt that plagues the American economy.
- Con - On the flip side the standing argument that there is no better way to invest in your future than to gain a quality education. The consistency and job security may be there now, but just like those investments on Wall Street, there can be fluctuations in workforce trends. Revisiting the story of alumnus Gordon Winn, he experienced this first hand when he was laid off during the great recession and employers wanted to see candidates with bachelor's degrees. Your education is a resume booster and often provides more security than you may think.
- Pro - Establishing a recognized history and accumulating substantial experience within a company can have highly regarded benefits. Although you may not have a degree, you have likely gained respect as an expert in the field and have stacked up some valuable relational power. You understand the complex dynamics of the workplace and have built equity with top level leadership that those starting out or switching jobs don't have.
- Con - Similar to the stock market model, qualifications for jobs may change. A company that fosters a culture of support and creates a positive learning community for its employees may provide internal training options to facilitate professional development, but not all organizations are so proactive. Expertise may mean a lot, but it also has the potential of only taking you part of the way to where you want to be. Having a degree can open a lot of doors when it comes to advancement while enhancing your resume for potential future endeavors.
Brandman offers a wide variety of certificate programs, both for academic credit and professional development (non-credit).
Going Back To College
Now that we have taken some time to touch on some pros and cons for working fulltime and not returning to school, let's explore some for the opposite end of the spectrum. This comes from the perspectives of those who indeed have well established careers but are thinking of switching from being a full time professional to a full time student.
- Pro - One of the primary reasons people decide to return to school is to accumulate more earnings in the future. That's why many people call education an "investment" and evaluate the return they will receive from undergoing the journey. Collegetransfer.net encourages student to do the math, “If it costs $100K to finish your degree over two or more years and you could earn $1M over the next twenty years with the college degree behind you, that would result in having $50K to your W2 per year on average.”
- Con - The financial long-term benefits are written everywhere, but when you are in that decision making mode it's easy to estimate the short-term drawbacks. Going back to college means regular tuition payments that your bank account is not used to. Schools with strong student support services have representatives that can help you understand the costs associated with education, but you'll want to carefully analyze how those play into your personal financial planning process and overall goals.
- Pro - When going back to school, selecting a degree that aligns with your personal and professional goals is important. According to YouCanDealWithIt.com, a resource that provides practical easy-to-understand advice on common financial situations, “Nontraditional students often choose a major related to their career (54% vs 31% for traditional students), especially if they are seeking career advancement.” Think about this relationship because when leveraged effectively can greatly increase your knowledge, skills and abilities that employers demand of their candidates.
- Con - Revisiting the short-term impacts of schooling, although full-time students are able to focus more intently on their studies, they don't have the luxury of turning around and applying what they learned to a work setting. One sign of a great school is that it has practice-based curriculum that integrates real-world examples and exercises to help students experience how they can use their education in the office. If you take the route of only taking classes, you may want to consider finding some way to stimulate your studies with practical exercises outside of the classroom.
- Pro - Working, especially in a job that requires consistent community outreach, lends itself to networking on a daily basis, but can also be limiting at times. Collaborating with your peers in classes can help you expand your network and connect with professionals inside and outside of your industry. Not only can you foster strong relationships but many of them may even open up new opportunities to re-energize or jump start your future career after graduation. Also think about the importance of connecting with your alumni community which can provide even more networking options
- Con - There have been many technological changes in the way students communicate and interact with one another in the past twenty years. Depending on your comfort level with the latest online networking tools, maintaining those connections may take some additional efforts in the online environment. You may want to familiarize yourself with the university's LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Plus pages and more to help you navigate through the nuances of relationship management in the digital age.
These are just a few different factors to consider when making your own pro and con list of working or going back to college. Take the time to write down all of the positives and negatives then weigh each factor by level of importance. As an alternative to the either/or scenarios presented in this article, you may even want to consider some sort of hybrid of accomplishing both work and education at the same time.
For example, Brandman University, a private nonprofit school, offers over 50 undergraduate and graduate programs in different modern day learning formats. Its on-campus classes offer a "blended" experience that combines face-to-face instruction with online collaborative assignments that give working professionals the flexibility to fit course work into their busy schedules. If you decide to go back to school, find modality that is right for you, and no matter what path you choose best of luck creating the future you envision.