Is Going Back to School the Right Move?

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Education has become something of a go-to during the Great Recession. Millions of workers have lost their jobs since the end of 2007, and suddenly the job market was filled with  educated, experienced workers. Skilled professionals with a decade or more of experience found themselves competing against younger, less experienced professionals who had a better grasp of new and emerging technology and trends. Heading back to the classroom quickly became an attractive – and in some cases necessary – step toward finding a job.

In a recent New York Times article, Steven Greenhouse took a look at professionals returning to school and their reasons. As you might expect, many workers want to refresh their skills and catch up on the changes that occurred since they graduated. For the unemployed, closing a gap in skill levels is their best chance to get their résumés on the top of the stack. For employed workers, it’s a way to advance in the company and stay ahead of job seekers applying for jobs.

Greenhouse explains:

“Some people have worked at a prosperous company for five years and are eager to move up, or are unemployed and eager to reinvent themselves. Still others are in an industry where successive waves of downsizing have made job security seem shaky. And more of them are concluding that if there is an answer to their problems, it’s more education.”

Returning to school is not as simple as deciding to get any degree or take a few courses and see the job offers and higher salaries pour in. Continuing education students can earn a degree, earn a certification or take only the classes that interest them. The important things, as Greenhouse notes, are to know what you want and to find a program that gives you the proper guidance. Not every industry is the same, much less every employer. A second master’s degree won’t give every person a boost, and in the end you could end up losing plenty of time and money.

The Times story continues: “Any good continuing education program, [dean of the University of Minnesota’s college of continuing education Mary Nichols] said, takes an individualized approach to its students. ‘We’re not in the business of steering people toward things,’” she said. ‘We’re in the business of helping people capitalize on their strengths and put together ways to build on their interests and passions.’

“Cathy A. Sandeen, dean of continuing education at U.C.L.A., suggested, ‘Look at trends in your field. Look at your current skills and what do you need to augment your skills to make you more relevant and more attractive in your field.’”

Greenhouse, Nichols and Sandeen make a good point that many job seekers forget: Education is a serious commitment, and unless you have plenty of time and money at your disposal, returning to school comes with tradeoffs. The time you’ll spending in class, studying and researching means less time with your significant other, family or DVR.

And you’ll need to pay for this schooling, which might be difficult if you’re unemployed. If you are employed, perhaps your employer has a continuing education benefit that covers some or all of the cost. Either way, crunch the numbers, consult the financial aid department and look for grants and scholarships. Education is an investment, yes, but you want to be certain you’ll recover the cost of that investment.

For one of the interviewees in Greenhouse’s article, the cost was less damaging than not returning to school.

“[Engineer Raul Torres], who had been laid off from his job as a senior database marketing analyst at Scholastic, said that before taking [a weeklong course in digital marketing], he had been getting many job interviews.

‘They kept asking me whether I had any Web analysis experience, any experience in search engine marketing, search engine optimization or mobile marketing,’ he said. ‘I had to say no, and that hurt my chances.’”

Fortunately, the time and effort paid off with a new job.

Judging from your responses to a recent post asking what reasons you’ve heard for not getting a job, education is a common response. Have you returned to school, taken online courses, earned a certification or mulled over any other education options recently? Let us know what you’ve done and what worked (and didn’t work) for you.

65 Comments
  1. Education and keeping your skills up to date is always a good move. Unforunately time constraints and the cost of tuition get in the way of going back to school.
    Another negative is going back for a specific type of career and then finding out that their aren’t as many openings as you thought there would be.
    But education for education sake is still a good idea.

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  11. I graduated 2 years ago with a Bachelors degree in Finance with a minor in Accounting. I started my job search 7 months before graduation and one year after graduation, I was lucky to have my $25k annual paying job. It offered the health insurance, retirement savings, and money to pay bills. However, I was unable to find a job in this market that paid what I was worth. The jobs in Finance and Accounting were all either entry level at $25k or required 3 years of combined continuing education or work experience. I didn’t make enough money to continue paying back my student loans (I had to have these in order to get my education) so I decided that I needed to go back. It was the best decision I ever made. After one year of grad school and one year of working that entry level job, I was offered a position as a Financial Accountant that doubled my salary. After only 6 months, I was given a $15k raise which brought me to a total of $65k annually. The difference I realized by going back to school was astounding! I recommend everyone with the opportunity to do it! By the way, I did this by working full-time, going to school at night, and being a single mom to a 3-year-old. Yes, I had to hire someone to watch my child and I did miss out on some extra time with her but I have every weekend and 2 nights a week to devote to my child and in 2 years (I will graduate 3 months after she turns 5) I will be able to devote all of my time to her and she will have a vastly greater life for it!

    • You are lucky…I got my master’s degree in information systems, along with 2 bachelor’s degree, and I don’t even make $25K…Well, of course, I’m a short and stocky minority woman…go figure…Well…Tall and Blonde makes more money…Of Course.

        • The woman did not say she was “Black”, she said she was a minority. “Minority is: Any race that is not white. Maybe some of you guys who ASSUMED the lady was black obviously does not know the definition of “Minority”.

          • “WHITE”, in this part of the country, is a Minority! Thank God I’m One! In South Texas we have more mixed race hispanics, white with hispanic names and hispanics with white names than any pure race other than Viet Nanmet. So will you folks just stop playing the “DAMNED RACE CARD”. The expression “Tall and Blond” may be fitting for the area of the country from where the comment was made. So People GROW UP!

        • A tool is always something that helps, not hurt or hinder, so how is “racist tool” helping her or anyone for that matter, and I’m assuming you’re using the word “tool” for lack of a better term, you should’ve used racist “plague” because that’s what it is. Yes this woman sounds idiotic saying what she did because the woman DIDN’T state her race or attributes, but honestly speaking, racism does occur in the work market and if you say it doesn’t then you’re only lying to yourself, because “WE” know it does, and “WE” live with the ramifications of it on a daily basis. Now it is the woman’s choice to DEAL with it(find ways around it)or sit and blame the “tall white woman with blonde hair” for not being able to get a job-so ultimately “black stocky woman(I’m black too, and female)quit blaming others for your shortcomings, get off your azz and keep trying ’til someone says yes!!! Fat people get hired everyday and so do fat black people!! You just gotta keep trying and never give up!!!!

          • BLACK STOCKY WOMAN-Maybe what I said was a bit harsh, and I didn’t mean it that way, but you can’t BLAME others for your shortcomings, it’s a waste of time and energy that you need to be using finding a job. So have the mind-set that EVENTUALLY, SOMEBODY is going to say yes, and they will!!! What God has ins tore for you NOBODY can stop, no matter what color they are, and that’s the mind-set you have when you go for an interview, and not take it personally when you get a rejection letter, hell these days, lots of us are getting them, even the ones that aren’t BLACK, NO EXCUSES BABY, KEEP TRUCKIN’ TIL YOU GET WHAT YOU WANT, and that would be………..A JOB!!!! May not pay much, but be optimistic, either you’re going to work your way up, or gain the experience you need to compete for better paying jobs, but either way, that “blame the white chick” zhit is not going to get you a job!!!!

            • Why did you refer to this woman as a “Black”. She said she is a “minority” not a “black” woman. Let’s stop assuming.

          • Very well said. The only reason racism l exists is because many people devolveas opposed to evolve. Do you think it mattered to the caveman or woman what color a useful hunter- gatherer was? I think not. He or she stayed a member of the clan because they contributed to the success of the entire group with humility, resolve and the instinct to survive

      • My work hires minorities and gives priorities over white males for sure! any woman has a great chance these days especially with your Ed, go girl!

        • In Calif. you will be distinctly advantaged to simply have a Hispanic last name.

          30 years ago it was best to be qualified, female and black. Not so today.

          Of course, you must also consider that white IS the minority race in Calif.

        • And how do you know the “minority” woman is “black”. “Minority does not mean “Black”. Minority could mean Asian, Spanish, Indian and the list goes on.

      • I get so sick of people whining about being a minority or a woman and getting looked down on. The only real minority in this country is the one that built it the white man so get over it and quit your whining be happy you have a job!

        • You need to get your facts straight. The “White Man” did not build this country. It was the intelligence and hard sweat and tears of the slaves who build this country.

    • I just thought it was interesting to note the poster mentioned she could not find a job to pay her what she was “worth.” Maybe all the details aren’t there, but I think recent grads need to check this kind of entitled attitude. If you have no relevant experience outside of going to school, then yes, entry level jobs are what you should expect. I honestly don’t think it was grad school that earned you that raise, but rather the time you spent getting some experience and showing that company your true value. It has to be earned in this market. A degree does not carry any sort of guarantee.

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  19. I graduated with my MBA with a focus in Information Security – a 3.85 GPA in the end of ’06. I was recieving interview about every three weeks in the first half of ’07 – then nothing. Everything has dried up. Luckily I am fully employed.

    In regards to my employer, since I graduated, I have been on the “two-ply” list because management is easily intimidated by anyone with more education then them. So as a result, they moved me to the lowest possible position – out of sight, out of mind. They didn’t lower my title or pay because I am not being “disciplined” and thus HR hands are tied.

    But I know that I am not the only one … someone else was transfered to our litlittle “Syberia.”

  20. I am currently in my second semester after returning to school for my degree after a 30+ year career in the Information Technology field. My goal is to transfer from my current field into education and become a teacher. I will let you know if and when it works out for me but I still have a long way to go. My technology experience was from the military and up until I reached age 45, it was all I needed to get me in the door somewhere to lead their efforts. Now that I am past age 55 the ageism being practiced by the human resources function and the illegal but unprovable hiring discrimination against my age group for my field is unbearable. I would like to leverage my considerable corporate experience to combine it with teaching and help young people understand why it is important to be able to write well, work with others, etc. I hope I can keep working until my degree is completed and I can move into teaching. The corporate world has me burned out for sure.

    • I’ve shared in the fun of being discriminated against because I’m over 50 in the corporate world. It bites because your work performance doesn’t even matter. Work performance is not what is even being considered. I just lost my job as the company moved work out of the country. This then became a great opportunity for the company to add getting rid of the older workers and hire younger ones domestically too. But, of course, the older workers didn’t lose their jobs until they trained the newbies. This training process started years ago. In any event, I qualify for TAA benefits so taxpayers are now sending me back to school. (While the executives at the company rake in mega bonuses. Something is wrong with this whoe picture.) I have a Master’s Degree and I’m really enjoying being back in a learning environment. I’m hoping to get into occupational therapy and do something that really helps people. I do think there are more positive environments for someone with a lot of experience to work in than the corproate can of worms. Best wishes to you, you’re not alone.

  21. The first time I was laid off in 1993, I returned to school to get a PhD in Physics and a doubling of salary. Then after being let go from a position where I did a very specialized measurement for which there was plenty of staff and few open positions, I returned to school again for a Master’s in Medical Physics. That resulted in another nice salary increase, in a field where I am helping people and where, hopefully, there will be reasonable job security.

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  23. I get TIRED of these “you too can be a scientist or engineer! The I.T. field is DEAD. I’ve heard this from the Comm College. There are so many kids out there, the mkt can’t hire them. What no one wants to be a plumber. Go see what they want to come out $250 ! They have all of the work they can get. And as for short, fat and minority. Do you want someone repulsive next to you ? Look at the Ralph Lauren or Armanni ads for example! Who do you see ? That’s life folks ! I would like to get into geoscience, but I would be descriminated as I don’t have any degree!

    • After years as a receptionist/office manager I moved and then spent three years looking for a job…finally decided to go to school. Got a Medical Assistant cert. in 10 months and a job two weeks after I finished. Love the job, it’s a growing career in my area. Never thought I would go back to school..hated it first time around…but here I am at 59 and loving my new career!!!

      • Nancy, thank you so much for posting that. I am over 50 and I am going to do exactly what you did….. I feel so much better now.

    • PS.. I’m short, brown hair mixed with a lot of grey, slightly overweight. It sure wan’t my looks that got me the job!!!!

  24. I’m a 35 year old black male with no college degree. After high school I worked several jobs primarily in the Customer Service market. I was smart enough to go back to school before the economy went bad. I ended up taking a HVAC/R course in Cali. After graduation I paid my dues. My first year in the field I was lucky enough to make $22,000. I had to do this with a wife and 3 children also the wife was unemployed. After about 5 years in the field and specializing in Ammonia Industrial Refrigeration I average $80 to $90k a year. And, it’s only that right now because the economy isn’t at its best. Long story short you can still make great money without a college degree. You also have job security; people will always need to eat!

  25. Going back to school does not guarantee a raise or a promotion! If you feel that you are in need of either you need to evaluate your individual situation before blindly just choosing to enroll in school and add to your student loan debt. Are you working for the right company?, How is the job market in your geograghic area in relation to your field?, Are you putting 100% to your job or are you flying under the radar?, etc..sometimes finding another job or relocating will help your career so long you are a good employee. In regards to the experiences you guys have posted above regarding age and race discrimination, it sucks that at this day and age we have to deal with that but unfortunately it is a deciding factor that some employers still practice. To help you avoid that you should live/work in places that embrace diversity. If you are older and suddenly find yourself without a job it sounds like you got left behind in your field – keeping yourself relevant is key to making yourself unexpendable (not entirely but close to it). For me, this is the biggest reason to pursue more education not just to get a raise because quite frankly if you do the same job for 5+ years and are not doing/learning anything new then you are hurting yourself. Eventually what is going to happen is you will lose your job to the young guns graduating out of college willing to your job for half your salary (which you earned from tenure at your company and not from how valuable you may be). And the last thing I want to do is change career at 60! I rather be thinkig of RETIREMENT! but if you don’t keep relevant that is what will happen!

  26. I have been unemployed for 16 months with sporadic temp jobs and unemployment benefits keeping me afloat. I have a visible disability which the Social Security Administration will not deem as such, but which causes frequent discriminatory situations (most recently last Dec.). I returned to school, received an associate nursing degree & STILL could not find work in my field due to disability discrimination!! Now what?….continue to BS degree?…find other field?…where might my disability NOT be an issue???

    • Helen,why not call Binder and Binder.You obviously have a legitimate problem and the SS Dr doesn’t want to see it or chooses to ignore it. Just call them and let them deal with the Government. Best of luck to you. Dee

    • Helen, your situation is definitely not a great one, but if I knew more about your condition I might be able to tell you exactly why your claim was denied, and maybe give you some advice.
      Do not listen to Dee, representatives do absolutely NOTHING for disability cases but steal money from people who would be approved anyway (and Binder and Binder is the WORST, because I could work on a case for 6 months and never receive as much as one status phone call from them). It really should be illegal, because they are clearly taking advantage of people in desperate situations.
      Helen, I know you posted your comment several months ago, but if you happen to check back, I would be happy to help you any way I can.

  27. Acquiring more knowledge and some paper to support same is great for
    job advancement and personal growth.
    However, let us be honest and real, race plays a profound role in advancement. Look at the middle and upper management rosters of companies/organizations from sports(high school,college, professional) to all other
    technical, non-profit and profit businesses/organizations.
    Study, acquire and advance!

  28. I know how a lot of you feel.
    I had a job all lined up just before the 9/11 twin towers hit.
    After that day, I never heard from the company I was talking with.
    Since then I have jumped from job to job never finding anything stable until 2 years ago.

    • Hey, to those minority women out there:
      I am a minority woman. Let me impart the words of wisdom from my own departed Grandmother. To paraphrase her: never and I mean NEVER rely on who you are physically (your race, what you look like) deterimine who you are in this world. Her message was to rely on your laurels, i.e. your education, and your experience in this world. Those words have served me well over the course of my years, and will serve you well too, no matter what color, creed, race or otherwise that you are. And believe me, I’m in the “forgotten” minority… I could make that my chip on my shoulder, which I do not. Instead, I choose the harder way which is to live as those who would consider themselves ango and compete against them direct, mind to mind, capability to capability…. trust me, your self worth in doing this will go up ten fold instead of complaining that you cannot be hired due to something beyond your control.

  29. It’s very easy to make judgments w/o experience. Whether one admits it or not, Whites make more than minorities. The dominant group’s solution is for the minority group to ignore it and keep trying, which is somewhat true, but could you honestly overlook this scenario if you were affected by it(rhetorical, b/c most don’t, can’t or refuse to)? For those who believe minorities are whining, you have and never will experience the injustices they do until you extensively study, participate and interact with them/others. It’s been proven time and time again that they are in fact discriminated against, underpaid and stereotyped (many of your comments show a lack of respect, understanding and intelligence towards the topic, simply emotions and social experiences/perceptions). Every minority doesn’t “whine” about their situation. The majority of your interpretations are based on media and independent references.

    Before you comment, stop and think about what your saying. As an avid researcher and teacher of cultural studies, it amazes me how people say things without realizing they are part of the problem. If you want minorities to stop whining, stop treating them so poorly.

    • obviously you don’t live in Atlanta.

      My mom is one of 2 white nurses on staff at Dekalb Medical Center. And faces race discrimination there. She was overlooked for promotion for a person almost her age with no degree ( they were set to graduate in 4 months). Who also happened to be black.
      She also faces bullying from her supervisors. But hey, i guess if white people are the only racist types, it must be ok

    • The truth hurts?! You don’t know what you are talking about and are clearly out of touch with reality. You may be a researcher and teacher, but you need to get your head out of the books and see what is really going on in this country. Oh and I speak from experience and being discriminated against for being a “white” person.

  30. Hooray for RENEE!!!!!!! Lady, YOU REALLY TOLD IT LIKE IT IS!!!!! Bless your heart! I wish you every success in your life that will be GOOD!!!!! By the way, I happen to be white. Good luck in ALL your endeavors.

  31. At the age of 45 I had 130 college credits and no degree. I went back to school and into Six Sigma at about the same time. Having recently moved from tool & die to engineering I wanted to advance. Since I have finished my bachelors and masters in business mangement and stayed in the Continous Improvement filed. even in Michigan I have changed jobs by cuts and by choice and made more money each time. I now make two and a half times what I did when I left tool & die, don’t work weekends and I will soon start a doctorate program.
    Go for it!

    • Sounds great! I finished a master degree and have become a millionaire after coming to China … pretty good for a Canadian Eh! Now I am working on my second million … I am only a teacher, but know how to invest wisely … hmm Warren Buffett watch out! :) Oh well I would still enjoy studying some more hmmm perhaps after my second mill…
      MMM

  32. I just wanted to say I am blond, tall and thin and i only make 18,000 a year, so and i have a degree in office administration, so not all white, tall, blonde women get offered a job making a lot of money…

  33. I would just like to say that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, or what your education is in, times are tough. My B.S. is in Math and I went back for an M.A. in Education and found myself unemployed for two years. I know what the statistics say and let me tell you that math teachers or any teachers for that matter are not in high demand (especially in Illinois). However, I was lucky enough to work at several community colleges in my area for pay that was next to nothing and no benefits but I was lucky to have what I had. Also, this helped me gain valuable work experience to eventually land my first full time teaching position. Sometimes working for peanuts and under what you think your value is can eventually pay off. It just takes time and patience.

  34. I have hired over 100 college grads mostly in engineering over the years; but had to teach them everything about the real job, even for electronic jobs, like the computer chip factory and all foods in the food labs nation wide for analysis, for the many things we now look for.
    The worst part you get fooled to think that you deserve to get paid a lot the day after college, and you are generally a nothing to me, many have some accademic knowledge, but mostly nothing I can really use, it gets worse with masters and PHD. I do not care if you took a PHD on a sewer plant in detroit, when I need you to focus on the bacterum types on that sewer.
    The only thing I get from a college grad is that they can usually be trained–in other words they used to have an Iq of 120 +++, not any more!!! Way too low college entry accepted, and those types do not get to keep jobs anyway—trust me, only about 38 % should and can actually go to college, like in northern EU

  35. Why does someone go back to college? mostly because they are not working any more and think they are going to find a different type of job career.
    If you had a BS when working for me, and stay working for me, I may ask you to take a class in some new thing we are going into, like modern spectroscopy for meat analyses, but not going back to take another 20-50 credits, that is never required to “update”! The Job usually updates you, as long as you do not get the job (programming) sent off to India, like in the Bush era!–in order to save money here and make more on the product.—The name of the game now, it is called capitalisem!–it will get a lot worse, when CH gets really big on production on everything, just look what happened to the HUMMER–what is next the Buick?and the F 150?–if you do not think that way you are stupid!
    College is 99 % of the time way behind me (in actual business)! and do not forget that, never mind the cost!

  36. When is our rhetoric going to refelct our reality. Racism, sexism and ageism are issues with out a doubt but we now operate in a global econmy with employers who have no sense of loyalty to anything but the next emerging market. As far as I’m concern, everyone in this discussion is right but the point is what are we willing to do for ourselves and others to ride this wave that has engulfed us all. My retirement plan is not to retire which means taking care of my health, upgrading my skills and networking so that I will stay in the game.Aging ,sickness and death will come to us all one day so I’m more concerned about maintaining and creating a quality of life for myself and others. So for those of you who might want to offer a negative reponse, save it for some one who cares.

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