By Wendell J. Scott, AHI
July 30, 2015 – Making the choice to further your education is an admirable feat. Yet even though you may be ready to commit to a particular school or program, many people neglect to ask themselves some basic questions to find if their career or school choice is truly what is in line with their best interests. By taking the time to answer these simple questions, you’ll only not only understand your motivations for school, but you’ll also be better prepared when choosing what school and academic program is the right choice for you.
1. Why do I want to go back to school?
When making the choice to go back to school, it is important to define your motivation for continuing your education. When you understand what motivates you, you will gain a greater appreciation as to WHY you want to succeed thus making you more likely to do so.
- Do you want to make more money?
- Are you unhappy with your current situation?
- Do you want to set an example for your children?
No matter your motivation for attending school, being well aware of WHY you want to go back will help you stay motivated to obtain your career goals.
2. How will school fit around my schedule?
Whether you are fresh out of high school or married with children and looking for a new career opportunity it is important to understand the time commitment that education will require when integrated into your day to day life. For example, the typical person working 40 hours a week with children would not have the time or mental energy to sustain taking 4-6 classes (approximately 12-18 credit hours) at a traditional university. When planning for your education, students can expect to put in at least 2-3 hours a week of study time & homework per credit hour of courses they are taking (example: 3 credit hours class [1 course] = 3 hours in class per week + 6-9 hours in study time per week)!
Some schools are flexible with their course schedules; offering online classes, distance education and blended learning while other Universities are more “traditional” in the sense that they only offer classes at certain times or in certain semesters.
Choosing a school that can work around your schedule is of paramount importance when choosing to enroll in a program.
3. Does the school meet my career objectives?
Many people enter post-secondary education without a career objective in mind. While this can be beneficial to the high school student who is trying to identify their career goals, the average adult needs to be much more focused in their objectives if they want to succeed. Knowing what your career goals are before entering school will save you time and money (potentially thousands of dollars), as well as put you on a fast track to career success.
4. How will I pay for school?
USNews.com reported that the average student loan debt is the United States is $30,000, while the Washington Post reported that in 2013 only 27% of college graduates had a job related to their major!
If you are planning to continue your education beyond public schooling, it is critical to have a career plan as well as a financial plan in place. If you are a prospective student, you will want to start by filling out a FAFSA form to determine your financial aid eligibility (located at fafsa.ed.gov), and help to project the costs of paying for your education.
Developing a financial plan on how to pay for school will help you obtain financial independence sooner when your program is complete.
5. Is the school accredited?
Though there are a large variety of schools available, not all institutions or programs are created equal. Choosing a school that is not accredited can waste both time and money, and potentially hinder your path to career success. When choosing a school, ensure that they have a national accreditation which is recognized in your field of study. These 5 minutes of research can save you years of hard work and thousands of dollars, if your institution is not accredited.
6. Will the school prepare me for licensure or certification in my field of choice?
It is implied that if you are taking courses in a certain field, that it will prepare you to sit for the licensure or certification relevant to your experience. What is NOT implied is the schools support system in place to lead you to successfully passing the relevant certification or licensure. Before enrolling in a program inquire about the school’s support system for licensure or certification.
- Does the school offer study guides & study groups to prep for certification or licensure?
- Is there a Career Services councilor, who will lead you to available jobs in your field?
- Are there externship or internship programs in place with local employers for your field of study?
It is important to research how a school will help you to obtain your career credentials after your education has taken place; the last thing you want is a lack of support once your money has been collected.
7. How long will it me take to obtain my degree or diploma?
When most people think of associate degree or bachelor degree programs, they correlate them with 2 and 4 year degrees [respectively]. What the majority of people do not realize, is that in order to obtain their degree in just 2 or 4 years, they must take on 15-18 credit hours per semester! For the average adult who works a full time job, or parent who is head of their household this is nearly an impossible feat to do in the allotted time.
If choosing a traditional degree, keep in mind that if you do not have time to commit to 15-18 credit hours per semester (45-72 hours per week), than you’re looking at 3+ years in obtaining an associate’s degree and 5-6 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
If choosing a career based training schools, typically the projected time will be a fairly accurate projection of the actual amount of time needed to complete the program.
8. Will the school help to place me in my field of study?
Many people would be surprised to learn that many of the top educational programs available actually have very poor 4-year graduation rates (the University of Southern Maine for example is 10%) 1 and subpar job placement rates. It is unfortunate, but in today’s school market the emphasis is placed on enrollments rather than outcomes. To put it in laymen’s terms, schools are looking to obtain students to make a profit, yet they neglect to follow through on helping them to obtain actual employment. While Universities are not held to these job placement standards, many of the smaller trade schools are held accountable to much higher standards for job placement and school retention (for example non-University post-secondary schools must reach a minimum of 70% job placement in their programs’ field of study).
Ensuring that the school of your choice has stringent student services & job placement standards in place will only help you to safeguard your job placement in the future.
9. Is the school or program engaging to my personal needs?
In choosing an educational pathway, you must take into consideration your own learning needs. For example: while some people can be very successful at the online approach to education, others need a much more hands on approach to learning in order to ensure their own personal success. Choose a school which has multiple support systems for learning the materials, so that if you have difficulty in your program, there is a safety net to help you succeed. Typically blended learning programs which integrate book, lecture, computerized and hands on training are a safe bet, because with multiple approaches to learning you are more apt to find the style of education which fits your personal needs the best.
10. Will education and career success bring me happiness?
At the end of the day, you must base your educational and career choices on what matters most, your own personal happiness. A paycheck means nothing if you don’t find genuine pleasure in waking up every day and doing what you love. Remember, that in the game of life you can work hard and pursue goals that aren’t in line with your general happiness and still fail at them, so you might as well pursue something that you love!
Bidwell, A. (2014, November 13th). Average Student Loan Debt Approaches $30,000. Retrieved July 14th, 2015, from US News & World Report: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/11/13/average-student-loan-debt-hits-30-000
LP., U. N. (n.d.). University of Southern Maine Academic Life. Retrieved July 14th, 2015, from U.S. News & World Report: http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/university-of-southern-maine-9762/academics
Plumer, B. (2013, May 20th). Only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major. Retrieved July 14th, 2015, from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/20/only-27-percent-of-college-grads-have-a-job-related-to-their-major/