Should an MBA degree be included in your mid-life, mid-career game plan? The answer is, “Getting a degree can be the best *or* the worst career decision of your life.”
Recently a national newspaper featured an article questioning the wisdom of escaping tough economic times by returning to school. Their article was targeted to twenty-something managers. What if you are mid-life and mid-career?
As a former college professor, I’ve learned that university enrollment is counter-cyclical: many people go to school when they have a hard time finding jobs. Many are in early career stages but we’re seeing more and more mid-life professionals following this pattern.
If your career has stalled or hit a few speed bumps, a return to school may be a good move. But “school” may not mean a conventional degree and your choices will be different from those of an entry level colleague.
School might mean a certificate program, an online distance education program, a continuing education course and/or a conventional degree program. Each offers benefits as well as downsides.
Some programs are so bad they’ll actually harm your career. Others are so valuable for specific professionals that I would encourage a client to negotiate for reimbursement as part of an employment or severance package.
(1) I recommend online distance education only if you have a very specific career goal and attending a live class is just not practical. For example, you might want to become a librarian, but the nearest live program is a few hundred miles away. You can’t leave your job and/or your family. If you’re a military officer deployed to a war zone, online education makes a lot of sense.
(2) A graduate program with a live component will offer valuable networking opportunities. Even if you just get together for weekend classes, you get to make connections and learn about other companies. I’ve heard many success stories from mid-career professionals who chose this path.
(3) Before investing time or money, investigate any program (especially if you’re hoping for a degree or certification). Degree programs should be accredited, but that’s a minimum standard. You need to find out who completed the program and where they are now.
(4) Enrollment and admissions counselors will help you, but you should not rely solely on their promises to make a decision. And if you rely on promises, get them in writing.
For example, “James” had a tough travel schedule. His enrollment counselor assured him that professors would be flexible about deadlines. In fact the school had a very strict deadline policy. The counselor honestly didn’t know: in many academic places, faculty and admissions staff rarely cross paths.
(5) You may be able to get a job at a university that comes with tuition for yourself and your family. Be sure you will get time off to attend the classes you need. If you need that 9 AM accounting class, but you can’t leave your job before 4 PM, you won’t enjoy the benefit.
And now I invite you to learn more by downloading my Mid-Life Back to School Guide. I got so frustrated with inaccurate info out there, I wrote my own.