Back-to-school season is here again, and you may be thinking about improving your education while working at the same time. However, returning to college after working for a while is often more difficult than going straight from high school. You may have kids, careers, bills to pay, and other responsibilities, and you may not be able to spend all your time studying. These tips can help you improve your qualifications and advance your career while keeping your current job.
Consider online courses and other alternatives
Thousands of courses and degree programs are available through many schools in the United States, and not all of them require you to attend class during typical business hours. By taking flexible online courses, you can complete your degree on your own schedule while still interacting with professors and fellow students. Many schools offer hybrid programs that incorporate the benefits of online and on-campus instruction.
You can also consider an online competency-based education (CBE) program, which lets you work at your own pace. Completion isn't based on a certain number of hours attending class; you can take as much time as you need to study a subject, and there's no deadline for taking exams or completing assignments.
This means that when you're busy at work, you can pause your classwork until you have more free time. You won't have to try to work on an important project and study for a final exam at the same time. At many jobs, work is more stressful at particular times of the year and slows down during other seasons.
Many CBE programs are subscription-based, meaning you pay for a certain number of weeks and can finish as many courses as you want within that time. If you need more time, you can renew your subscription. If you're already familiar with a subject, you can get more for your money by finishing it quickly and then moving on to the next class without a renewal.
"There are several types of programs that you can pursue, and it's important to understand the differences between them and what employers in your industry prefer."
Research your options carefully
There are several types of programs that you can pursue, and it's important to understand the differences between them and what employers in your industry prefer. A professional certification usually doesn't take as much time as an associate's or bachelor's degree, but it could have more criteria and more specialized coursework. Certifications often require a licensing exam, especially in technical or medical fields. You can consider a certification if you want to improve your qualifications at your current job or change careers without spending a lot of time in school.
When you're not sure if you want to stay with the company you work for or seek out a new job, an associate's or bachelor's degree may be best. These programs are more generalized, and graduates have many career options. A bachelor's degree is usually required to enroll in a master's degree program, medical or law school, or other advanced studies.
Choosing the right school is important for your success as well. Search for school reviews online, and if possible, visit the campus. Even if you plan to do most of your learning online, it's a good idea to see the types of facilities the school has available. Contact the admissions department and ask them what support they offer for working students. You can also speak to some students and ask them what their experience with the school has been like so far.
Plan your finances
Going back to school can often be very expensive. When you search for a school, consider the cost of tuition. After you decide which institution you want to attend, calculate the total cost of your education and the monthly fees. Along with tuition, think about books, school supplies, commuting, and other expenses. You may also need to work fewer hours while you complete your classes, which could affect your income.
Many employers will also pay for some or all of the costs of continuing education. It's a good idea to talk to your boss and ask if the company offers any programs you could take advantage of.
You may also be able to get a scholarship or grant or apply for a loan. Some of these programs are available through individual institutions, and others are administered by the government. Speak to your school's financial aid department, and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to find out which loans or grants you qualify for.
Student loans may not require payments for several years, but they can eventually be very costly. Before accepting a loan, make sure you can repay it while still enjoying a comfortable lifestyle. While you're in school, stick to a strict budget and avoid using student loan money for optional purchases, such as new clothing.
Manage your time and stay organized
Even when you take courses online, going back to school can take a significant amount of time. Create a schedule with time management tools such as planners, calendars, tracking sheets, and automated reminders. Track how long certain tasks take to create an efficient schedule that works for you. For example, if you spend about 12 hours per week on coursework, you can schedule three hours on Mondays, another three hours on Wednesdays, and six hours on Saturdays.
Finish your assignments as soon as possible, and don't procrastinate. If you mostly study from home, try to avoid distractions by using a secluded spot, such as your basement or a spare bedroom. You can also try visiting your local library, a coffee shop with Wi-Fi, or a coworking space.
When possible, go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day, and get plenty of sleep. You might be tempted to stay up late on weekends to complete some extra coursework, but it could make waking up for work or class on Monday much more difficult. Not getting enough sleep can also make it harder to think clearly and remember information from your classes.
Understand the benefits of going back to school
Going back to school can be tough, and staying motivated while working full-time can be difficult. Remember that while finishing school can be stressful, it offers many benefits, including:
- Better pay
- The opportunity to finish a degree you started years ago
- A chance to learn about advanced technologies and the latest changes in your industry
- A chance to take classes about subjects you enjoy, such as art or music, that may not be related to your current career
- Networking opportunities with fellow students and professors
- A way to make your resume stand out compared to most people in your field
- A possible promotion or a more lucrative job with another company
By going back to school, you can increase your knowledge and make yourself more appealing to management at your current company and potential new employers. After you complete your program, you can look for openings that require someone with your education by uploading your resume to CareerBuilder.
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