The Best and Worst Reasons to Go Back to School

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Is higher education right for you? Before you decide, check out our list of best and worst reasons to go back to school.

By Terence Loose    
Last updated on 07/20/2014

Thinking of going back to school to advance your education? That could be a great move if it's done for the right reason. If done for the wrong reason...well, not so much.

Meredith Haberfeld, New York-based career and executive coach, says potential students need to carefully consider what they want their future to look like before returning to school.

"It's about figuring out what you love doing, how much you are committed to earning, and what careers and degrees match back to that," says Haberfeld.

Are you going back to school for the right reasons? There are a lot of great reasons, including learning something new and meeting new people. But that's just scratching the surface. Read on to see what experts say are some of the best and worst reasons to go back to school.

Worst Reason #1 - You Are Being Pushed by Someone to Do It

Going back to school should be a decision you make for yourself, not a decision someone makes for you.

"Personally, I think it's better for those students to, like that great quote in 'Pulp Fiction' says, 'Walk the earth like Kane in Kung-Fu' and figure out what they want," says Rob Schneiderman, a counselor at Southern California's Orange Coast College.

In other words, he thinks letting someone else push you back to school is a terrible idea.

 "What happens," he says, "is they end up being unsuccessful for their first couple semesters and once they have those poor grades on their transcripts, it's with them forever. Then, in a few years when they're ready and motivated to go back to school, they have those poor grades stuck with them."

So, make sure that you're going back to school because you want to, not because someone is pushing you to do it.

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Worst Reason #2 - You're Doing It Solely to Get a Job

Going back to school to help you reach your career goals is a terrific idea. But, if you're going back to school to earn a degree solely for a job - that's a problem.

A lot of people are desperate for a job right now, and as so many studies have shown, earning a college degree is linked to better employment rates. But remember, life is about more than a paycheck. Enjoying what you do is also vital to your health and happiness.

"Is business a great degree to have? Yes. But if you hate business it's a terrible degree to pursue," says Schneiderman. He's even seen students trying to earn a nursing degree who hate people and faint at the sight of blood. That's desperate - and a bad life choice.


Worst Reason #3 - You Don't Know What Else to Do

Not knowing what you're going to do in terms of your career can be tough. But that doesn't mean that going back to school is the best solution.

"I can't tell you how many lawyers I work with who are three to 20 years out of law school and hate what they do, but went to law school thinking 'Well, I don't know what else to do,'" says Haberfeld. "They never really wanted to be a lawyer. Their thought process was 'What's something that will forward my future?'"

Before you decide to go back to school, do some research and see if the degree you're considering is really for you.

Haberfeld suggests talking to people who actually do the job you are thinking about pursuing. "Find out what they love about their job, what they hate about their job, what they actually do all day, what the culture of the industry is like, and then assess whether it's a match for you."


Best Reason #1 - You Want to Pursue a High-Growth Career

Being jobless is no fun, as more than 9.5 million Americans can attest as of July 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And with unemployment at 6.2 percent as of July 2014, doing what you can to get a job and secure it isn't always easy.

One way you could prepare to pursue a high-growth career is by going back to school to earn a relevant degree. At least, that's what the correlation between educational attainment and unemployment rates suggests.

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As of March 2014, the Department of Labor notes that high school grads with no college had an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent. Compare that to bachelor's degree holders, whose unemployment was at 4.0 percent, and pursuing higher education looks like a smart option.

What's more, a recent report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce projects that by 2020, "about 30 percent of all employment will require some college education or better."


Best Reason #2 - You're Pushing for a Promotion

Have you watched as the guy who couldn't sell TVs to a couch potato get a promotion instead of you, just because he finished college? You're not alone, according to Schneiderman.

He says that one of the most common reasons people go back to school is because they were passed over for a promotion due to their lack of degree.

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"And nowadays, with the bad economy, it's even worse," Schneiderman says."People with better skills than their colleagues are getting laid off because they don't have a degree."

So, if you're hoping to advance in your career, going back to school to upgrade your degree could be a great idea.


Best Reason #3 - You've Got Your Sights Set on a Better-Paying Career

While there are many factors that go into finding - and qualifying for - a better-paying career, recent studies show that a college degree could greatly improve your chances.

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According to a 2014 second quarter survey of earnings by the U.S. Department of Labor, the median weekly income of a full-time worker with a high school diploma was $651. Compare that to the median weekly income of bachelor's degree holders - $1,108 - and you're talking almost $24,000 more per year.

As they say on the golf course, that's a lot of green in-between.

Molly Smith also contributed to this article by updating the information on 07/20/2014

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