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Experts Say To Weigh Benefits Of Returning To School

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
November 5, 2009

People are returning to school in droves to help advance their careers or start new ones, but experts caution that the decision should be carefully evaluated before enrolling in any classes.

"It's easy to go back to school if you don't have a job," noted Robert Hellman, a professor at New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies, who was quoted by Forbes. "You study hard and you don't have to deal with life for two years. But it may not lead to career growth."

He recommended that those considering embarking on a master's program first reflect on long-term career goals and the steps needed to achieve them, and then consider if a graduate program is necessary. A master's is usually required for secondary and post-secondary teaching positions, but in fields such as information technology, human resources and sales, work experience may matter more than a degree.

"If you think a master's is what you need to get where you want to go," said Hellmann, "then it's time to do a return-on-investment calculation." He advised using an online calculator to weigh tuition costs, investment in time and expected salary growth. If the debt is too great, one can instead consider enrolling in a certificate program, which costs less both in time and money.

Dennis Sullivan, a career counselor at Northern Virginia Community College, told The Washington Post that he advises people to ask themselves several questions before signing up for classes: "Is it time for me to change careers or to shift? Is there another skill set or competency that would make me more employable with this company? Is it time to go back and complete the degree I didn't finish?"

He and Bill Stokes, an executive recruiter and chairman of the Washington Networking Group, suggested several areas that are good bets for enhancing careers: Computer or technical training is always useful, said Sullivan, as are classes in foreign languages or English as a Second Language.

"You can't have too many technical skills in today's workplace," he explained, and learning new languages--or improving English skills for those who grew up in foreign countries--can only help with career growth.

Professional certifications also offer advanced training which can help open doors. Barbara Herzog, a Washington, DC-based career counselor, suggested thinking about "what skill or skills could have come in handy the past year. What did you have trouble doing, or what did you need to ask for help to do?"

Stokes noted that an added benefit of professional designation or certification is that unlike with a bachelor's or master's degree--when the names of colleges and universities can make a difference--"it doesn't really matter as an employer if you've gotten your certification from one of the no-name universities."

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