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Is it Time to Go Back to School?

Summertime lunch in Bryant Park, Aug 2009 - 27

Carolyn Shore recapitulates the questions related to the decision to go back to school, and the reasonable answers.

You have a solid career, but you just can’t stop thinking about what else is out there. You see yourself on a different career path, but you just don’t know about going back to school. It seems risky and scary, but what is really holding you back? Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself and to avoid as you make a really important life-changing decision: should you go back to school?

  • What do I really want to do?

In getting to the point where you’re considering going back to school for either an advanced degree or a new degree in a different field, you have probably already asked yourself, what do I want to do with my life? If you’re thinking of going back to school, the answer probably has to do with switching gears, finding a new track or just simply the goal of making more money in your current job. Whatever your goal is, make sure that you match it to the new degree you seek.

  • Do I have the resources?

Going back to school takes time, money, and especially if you have a family, you’ve got to have their support. Ask your family if they’re willing to help you out by making meals, giving siblings rides to practices, and taking on a few more chores from week to week to give you time to do homework and attend classes. If your family is on board, you can’t go wrong.

  • Will I have to leave my job to finish the degree?

If you and your family depend on your income, make sure to consider this when deciding if you can attend three or four classes per day and sacrifice your job in turn. If you need to keep your job while you work on your degree, ask your employer how flexible he or she can be with your schedule. If your job is simply not the flexible sort, research online degree programs and find the top schools that offer an online degree in your chosen field.

  • Do I need a new challenge?

If your current job is leaving your mind in a limp and bored state day after day, the nine to five doldrums need to be addressed. Rather than enduring the monotony and lack of stimulation, think of a new challenge. You may have started a career thinking it was your dream career only to discover along the way, as you’ve learned and changed, that you have new dreams and new paths to explore. Don’t let the status quo keep you from investigating.

  • What else do I want in life?

If you have yet to start a family, consider if and when you’d like to do this. If you’re planning on doing this soon, it may not be the best time to go back to school depending on how long your degree program is. If you can wait to start a family for a couple of years, you may be able to find accelerated programs that will suit your ‘big-picture’ timeframe.

Questions you DON’T want to ask

  • Am I too old?

No! School is not just for 18-year-olds who know little about life and what they want from it. In fact, students who have already had experience in the work force or as a full-time parent have a lot of tools that will make being a student more generative and effective.

  • Will I be the oldest person in the classroom?

No! Well, in any case, the number of recent students over 40 going back to school is getting higher year by year. Chances are you’ll be in good company, and if not, it won’t matter. You know what you want and you’re going after it.

  • Will I be able to keep up?

Yes! After juggling career, family, and the unexpected challenges that life often sends your way, you’re more prepared than ever to handle the pace of college life. If you’re worried about the technological advancements that you may have to deal with, talk to your professor. Most professors are happy to sit down with students and walk them through the basics for emailing and online programs you may need to use. Don’t let technology scare you; it could be your best resource rather than your worst nightmare.

If you’re considering going back to school, don’t let fear stand in the way. Know the right questions to ask and avoid the questions that are centered on anxiety about the unknown.

About the Author

Carolyn Shore blogs about higher education, including health informatics. If you are interested in returning to school to get an advanced health degree, you might consider applying at http://healthinformatics.uic.edu/ or http://www.bu.edu.

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