Many career change clients consider returning to school for credentials, degrees and/or skill building. If you’re at a crossroads, I recommend considering this option, if only because you’ll get new ideas for your next career.
But I’ve been on both sides of the desk. I was just as irreverent as a professor and student as I am now. So I encourage everyone to read between the lines before signing up.
The old signals of reputability no longer apply. For example:
• Some universities are “accredited” but not “respected.” And unless you know how to dig deep, it’s hard to tell who accredited your university and what it means for you. For instance, read this article from many years ago — it’s still relevant today.
• Online and distance education have become mainstream, especially business, library science and IT.
I used to say, “Avoid a university that advertises on the side of a bus,” but some very well-regarded schools are now doing just that.
Here are five questions to ask so you can avoid making expensive decisions that will lead only to disappointment.
(1) Can you talk to recent graduates of the program?
Any alumni office should be willing to share names of recent graduates. Some will insist on getting permission to share contact info. That’s okay.
But if they tell you all names are confidential, run away as fast as possible. Graduates should be proud of their training and their academic affiliations.
Training programs often promise career success, but the fine print says, “No guarantees.” I’d go with the fine print.
(2) Will this program really deliver the results you want?
“Tom” signed up for a regionally accredited university’s doctoral program. Thousands of dollars later, he discovered he could not get a teaching position in his local colleges.
I’ve heard many stories like Tom’s. Talk to hiring managers and university administrators before signing up.
(3) Are faculty listed by name and degree?
If more than a few professors graduated from the same program you want to enter, look elsewhere. Diversity means quality. No list of faculty? Forget it.
(4) Do you know your own learning style?
Are you an auditory, kinesthetic or visual learner? Auditory learners can face unique challenges in online programs because there’s reading as well as video. Kinesthetic learners like to develop skills on the job – they prefer action to classrooms.
If you face special challenges, such as attention deficits, stress, and/or dyslexia, talk to an independent licensed professional before embarking on your new venture.
(5) Can you afford the tuition easily?
I don’t recommend going into debt or taking big risks, except in very rare situations.
If your company pays the tuition, go for it – but be sure your program or degree will have value if you change jobs and/or careers. Some degree and professional programs will actually drag down your resume. And some employers ask for a commitment to continue working for them after you get your degree.
But don’t let me discourage you – really. Exploring programs and reading catalogs will stimulate your creative juices and help you identify what you really want, in or out of school.
Need more? Of course you can consult with me one-to-one. I’m one of the few career consultants who’s actually been a college professor.
You can also read this very affordable ebook: Back to School for a Midlife Career Change