Hitting the books again can help you learn skills for a new career or increase your earning potential. But in this economy, is it worth your time and tuition? Five things to think through before enrolling.
1. PINPOINT YOUR GOALS
Knowing exactly why you want to return to school may determine whether it will pay off in the long run. Earning your GED if you don't have a high school diploma is always wise: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, that diploma alone can be expected to net you an additional $200,000 in wages over your lifetime. If you need a graduate degree to change careers, look carefully at the field to find out if you'll see enough of a salary boost to cover your investment. Use to estimate the likelihood of recouping your costs.
2. RESEARCH THE JOB MARKET
Look for opportunity-rich fields to ensure you stand a good chance of finding work when you finish your studies. Nursing, sonography and accounting are all occupations where workers continue to be in demand and for which training is needed. You can also check out the to see which industries are growing.
3. FIGURE OUT HOW LITTLE SCHOOL YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH
Sometimes updating your skills with a single class can help you keep your job—or land the job you want. You can also save by choosing a certificate program (usually 7 to 10 classes) over an advanced degree. A certificate in accounting from the University of Maryland University College, for example, takes one to two years and costs in-state students about $4,300—compared to a $30,000 four-year accounting degree. The less time in school, the sooner you can job-hunt.
4. CONSIDER ONLINE LEARNING
One advantage of taking a class is meeting people with related interests who may help lead you to your next job. Often, your network dwindles after being at the same company—or unemployed—for an extended period. But if your people connections are solid, online courses are convenient and can save you money on both commuting and child-care costs. And distance learning has its advantages: A 2009 Department of Education analysis found that students in instructor-led online courses often performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction, in part because they spent more time on task.
5. TRY TO HAVE SOMEONE ELSE PAY FOR IT
According to a 2011 study by the Society for Human Resource Management, half of all employers offer some form of tuition assistance, so definitely ask if yours does. There are also many tax credits and deductions to help offset education costs detailed in Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education, at . Unemployed? You may qualify for additional assistance. Check out for more information.
SOURCE: Marc Dorio, author of