5 Great Reasons to Go Back to School

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Find out if going back to school could be right for you.

By Chris Kyle   

Want to switch careers? Angling for a promotion? Maybe you want to make more money?

These can all be good reasons to head back to school. But before you make the commitment, you should do your homework to ensure it's really the right move for you.

To help you figure things out, we've put together a little cheat sheet to help you see if going back to school might be right for you.

Reason #1: You want to finish your degree.

Wanting to complete a degree program that you started but haven't finished yet is a noble goal that is gathering steam across the country.

Vermont recently launched a campaign to encourage adult "stop outs" to return to school. Texas has a similar program called Grad TX that is designed to help adults go back and get their degree.

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"If you already have some college credits under your belt, returning to college to earn your bachelor’s degree is probably easier than you think," Grad TX writes on its website.

But a bachelor's degree isn't the only degree worth pursuing.

"In the coming years, jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience," said President Obama when introducing his plan to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

In fact, every governor in the U.S. has been asked to convene a college-completion summit as part of Obama's goal to add eight million more graduates with associate's or bachelor's degrees by 2020.

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Reason #2: You want to make more money.

Generally speaking, it's true that more education could eventually lead to more money.

In 2010, the average weekly wage for workers without a college degree was $712, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $1,038, says the same report. That's a difference of nearly $17,000 per year.

Or perhaps you're thinking about going to business school to pursue your MBA? The average starting salary for an MBA grad is $78,820, according to a 2010 study by the Graduate Management Admission Council.

The key to increasing your earning potential is to make sure that you are pursuing the degree that is best for the profession that you are targeting, says Annette Parisi, assistant director for employer relations at Sienna College in upstate New York.

To research which degree matches what you want to do, search the U.S. Department of Labor's website, which breaks down different careers and includes education and training information for each position.

Here's a sampling of careers along with the degrees and average salaries that typically accompany them, according to the Department of Labor:

  • Medical assistant: associate's or certificate in medical assisting - $29,760
  • Bookkeeping clerk: associate's in accounting/business - $35,340
  • Computer support specialist: associate's or bachelor's in IT - $49,930
  • Financial analyst: bachelor's in finance/business, maybe an MBA - $86,040

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Reason #3: You want more job satisfaction.

Looking to achieve more career satisfaction is a common theme these days.

When the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveyed 20,000 graduating seniors in 2011, they listed "opportunity for personal development" as the single most important attribute in a job or potential employer.

"We've seen personal development moving up the list since the recession, suggesting that students recognize they may need to look for job satisfaction in other ways,” says Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director, in a news release.

In this case, you want to make sure that the degree you are getting matches up with your career goals.

Do you want to start your own business? Studying business administration or accounting could help.

Do you want a job that involves caring for others? If so, studying nursing may be for you.

The list goes on and on. The idea here is to identify what makes you happy - and then pursue it.

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Reason #4: You want a promotion.

Wanting a promotion at work is a good sign. It shows you're driven and determined to succeed.

But it's not enough to want to get promoted. You have to deserve it.

Depending upon your situation, it's possible that going back to school could help.

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Assess your strengths and weaknesses and don't be afraid to ask co-workers and even your boss for their opinions on what you need to make it to the next level. You may learn that more education can help you achieve your goal of getting promoted. By letting your intentions be known, you'll also be indicating that you're ambitious and goal-oriented.

Reason #5: It may be more possible than you think.

Online courses may help you pursue your education without giving up your current job.

And it's even possible that your employer will help pay for you to go back to school, says Sam Govea, executive dean of distance learning at Brookhaven College in Texas.

"Despite the tough economy, employers are still paying tuition for courses related to the employee's work area," Govea says. "Employees are taking advantage of this benefit and trying to make themselves more valuable to the company by obtaining an advanced degree or certificate."

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