Going back to school has the potential to boost your career possibilities and your income. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you figure out what's best for you.
Going back to school can be an exciting endeavor—advancing your education can open new paths in your current career or offer a fresh start to a new career entirely. Beyond your career, it can also be personally rewarding. Here’s a quick guide to help you navigate the process of going back to school as an adult.
Whether your reasons for going back to school are personal or professional, there are several benefits of achieving a higher level of education.
Professional benefits: With a degree, you can explore new jobs, change careers, or advance in your current one.
Financial benefits: A higher education level is correlated with higher incomes. In the fourth quarter of 2022, those with a bachelor's degree or higher earned $1,547 in median weekly full-time wages and salary, compared with $875 per week for high school graduates . Graduate degrees can stretch that number even further. Here’s a breakdown of median weekly earnings by education level:
|Education level||Median weekly earnings in the US (2021)|
|Less than high school diploma||$626|
|High school diploma||$809|
|Some college, no degree||$899|
*This information was adapted from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics .
Achieving your personal goals: If you’ve always wanted to get a higher degree or finish one you started in the past, going back to school can be a source of personal satisfaction. Furthering your education can also help you discover new passions, grow more independence, and meet new types of people. Whatever the reason, be sure to think through your decision to ensure you’ll be making the best choice for yourself.
Read more: What Are Your Career Goals? Tips for Setting Your Goals
Attaining a degree is an investment, but there are several signs that point to long-term financial benefits if you complete one. Learn more about whether a bachelor's degree is worth it or whether a master's degree is worth it.
Choosing to return to school to finish a bachelor's degree or pursue a master's degree can feel like a big decision. As you consider whether going back to school is the right move for you, ask yourself these seven questions:
Going back to get your master’s degree or bachelor’s degree can connect to higher earnings over your lifetime, or be the first step in switching careers. If you’re going back to school for career impact, you’ll want to make sure your field of study is relevant to the work you want to do.
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While the financial benefits of getting a degree have been well-recorded, school can still be expensive. Having a plan to pay for your education can save you headaches down the road.
The price of higher education can vary depending on several factors. Is the school private or public, in-state or out-of-state, online or in-person? How much financial aid can you expect to receive? There’s evidence that public, in-state, and online schools are cheaper than their counterparts.
Don’t put off applying for financial aid. There are several scholarships specifically for returning adults. Plus, you can apply for federal aid for both undergraduate and graduate programs—get started by completing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Read more: 7 Ways to Pay for Graduate School
Some careers don’t have specific degree requirements. Other options like professional certificates and online courses can equip you with the skills needed to switch careers or satisfy your curiosity.
Professional certificates: Professional certificates are credentials that can open doors to careers that don’t call for specific degrees, and often don’t require any previous related experience. Some will prepare you for in-demand jobs by teaching you new skills, like data analysis or IT support.
Bootcamps: Bootcamps are short, intensive programs designed to quickly get you specific skills, typically in a few weeks or months. Though perhaps associated with coding classes, bootcamps exist for a variety of other fields, like UI/UX design, data science, and graphic design. If you already have a degree but are trying to switch to a new field or want to enter a field that doesn't require a degree, they can be quicker and often cheaper than getting a degree.
What you choose to study can depend on the reasons you’re going back to school. If you’re going back for a career change, it can be a good idea to find what job areas are growing in your desired career area. This may help you land in a field where jobs are more readily available and your skills are in demand. If you’re going back to school to fulfill your personal goals or learn something new, this aspect may not be as high a priority.
Read more: What Should I Major In? 5 Things to Evaluate
Online and in-person schooling both have their merits. Online degrees can afford more flexibility, and allow you to access schools and professors that are geographically far, often at a lower cost than in-person equivalents. You likely won’t have to worry about relocating, and have more flexibility to stay in your job or take care of family.
In-person schooling on the other hand can allow for more structure, and the face-to-face interaction with peers and professors can be beneficial to those who prioritize it.
A part-time schedule can be helpful if you hope not to disrupt your current life situation. Part-time programs exist for both in-person and online schools.
A full-time schedule can mean putting a pause on your current job, but you’ll probably be able to finish your degree faster. Think about what’s needed in your situation.
Cost, reputation, program quality, networking opportunities, location, and flexibility can all be factors in your decision to attend a school.
An online school should be accredited by a regional or national organization to guarantee a baseline of quality. Some online programs have entirely pre-recorded lectures (called “asynchronous” classes), while others feature live sessions; some courses are taught by university faculty while others are taught by teachers hired by the school specifically for online courses. Programs may offer hands-on projects or robust alumni networks. Think about what you want out of your online degree and see if the programs you’re interested in stack up.
A school with a good reputation can impress employers and be a sign of quality education. That said, chasing after big names can make you miss out on great programs at other schools that have departments that are just as good, or even better, than programs at highly ranked schools. A school located in a specific area may also have better connections to local employers.
Going back to school, whether online or in-person, is a huge achievement. But the sheer volume of options can be overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to do your research and think through your choices.
In the meantime, you can browse through Coursera’s online master's and bachelor’s degrees.
Give your team access to a catalog of 8,000+ engaging courses and hands-on Guided Projects to help them develop impactful skills. Learn more about Coursera for Business.
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by educational attainment, https://www.bls.gov/charts/usual-weekly-earnings/usual-weekly-earnings-over-time-by-education.htm." Accessed March 10, 2023.
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Education pays, 2021, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2022/data-on-display/education-pays.htm." Accessed March 10, 2023.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.