Whether you’re intending to go back to university (or going back to the classroom as some would describe it) at some point in your professional career, or you have not yet considered further education, it is certainly no easy option. Much of the mental struggle revolves around the choice and the actual reality of taking on so much work and in many cases whether it is even feasible. Having a clear understanding of one’s aspirations is great but gathering insight on the topic of further education is also very helpful. Therefore, it is important to address the knots within the challenge that is going back to the classroom environment after years of working in an office world. The first step when confronted with the dilemma is to ponder over the reasons and be able to express them as well as the intended outcome – why are you doing it? What do you hope to achieve?
It might be surprising how easy is sounds but on paper, once you have to write a personal statement or sit with the academic staff, you may realize it is not as clear as you hoped it was…
Going back to the classroom for increased income
The general opinion is that degrees secure good income and better degrees secure higher incomes – that makes sense? After all, the main driver for people to seek a degree after high school in the first place is to enrol in a line of work that pays well from the start. Seeking a higher studies degree is another league though, whether it be in terms of effort, time, money or lifestyle changes. Therefore, it is wise to check first to see if your preferred degree will provide the outcome you are looking for.
The workplace can be a strange world as many employers would rather not have more expensive employees whereas others would be ready to pay a percentage of the study fees as long as they align with their interests. A employer will expect something in return for assisting with study costs whether this is greater expertise in the workplace or perhaps a new line of business for the company. On the other hand some companies will not improve your salary just because you earned a new degree and others will have a very strict wage model which they stick to rigidly. The main point is that increasing your salary through your degree is not a given and it will ultimately depend on your employer.
In summary, company policies in this regard are varied, ranging from supportive to greatly disapproving and everything else in between. Would you be willing to engage in a conversation with your employer if the policy was not clear? Will you be flexible in terms of what the company wants you to actually train in? Will you allow the company to interfere with your choice of path or to help with the financial aspects? Make sure you know the full story before you start filling out your application form as going back to the classroom can consume your life!
Going back to the classroom for the sake of expertise
One of the main reasons why many people seek a degree is to become an expert in a particular field. Seeking expertise once you find your calling is all good and well but how will you employer react? Many companies will not worry about yet another employee pursuing a management role and a quick ascent to the top because very often there are just not enough management positions to go round. Will you have wasted your time gaining a degree or can you make better use with another employer?
Expertise can pay in its own way with money as the more predictable collateral. It will make you more competitive and you will earn a specialized profile. But keep in mind that, for example, just because you work on welding all the time it doesn’t mean the university within your vicinity offers thermal stress or residual stress in manufacturing courses. Indeed, there is no guarantee that after choosing a specific course on welding that you will fully understand it all – it can be a lot to take in and some of the work may be outside of your comfort zone.
Prerequisites and the possibility that your area of interest is not taught in your region might become problematic. If you are willing to leave your position and relocate it will be another kind of challenge – perhaps a harder challenge, finding money to live and the time to study. It will certainly require a greater commitment and leaving the company to pursue full time studies might not even be an option. Many people enrol in intensive courses to deepen their understanding of for example the manufacturing processes or the applied mathematics behind a particular software. This can be extremely challenging, juggling time for work and time for study – it is also imperative that you don’t let the extra work load impact your output in the workplace. Browsing your options and discussing your plans with a university careers department will prevent you from going back to the classroom and enrolling in courses that are irrelevant to your long term goals.
You may have found out you don’t like the field you majored in after working in it. It can be painful to come to the realization that classes are nothing like the practices of the industry. Therefore, going back to school seems a reasonable way to pivot to something else you think would be a good fit for you – maybe try with something that you have a passion for, something which you enjoy.
In any case, going to school for a degree that doesn’t relate to your previous one might put you back to the starting line. You will have to rebuild your experience through projects and internships, and you shouldn’t be too surprised if potential recruiters don’t give you credit for your past experience when evaluating your wages – especially if there is little cross-over between your new degree and your tasks in the workplace. Also, keep in mind that you might go through the same dilemma of studying hard and sacrificing a lot for studies you enjoy, to end up with a practical aspect that might not live up to your expectations. In such circumstances, it is crucial to understand one’s nature and discern when it is a deeper problem, a whim or an actual lack of fulfilment and satisfaction with the position.
It is also useful, if possible, to try and gain some practical experience in the degree related field of your choice before committing yourself to a period of further education. Some employers will allow employees to switch within the organisation and gain experience in other departments. If you are able to find a temporary role, within the organisation, which ties in with your preferred degree then go for it. The worst that can happen is you find the role is not to your liking and the degree will be a waste of time or you might love the new responsibilities, gain encouragement to pass your degree and you might even get a wage rise! At the end of the day if you are willing to learn, you are flexible and able to step out from your comfort zone then you will become an extremely valuable member of the workforce!
Keeping up to date: in some lines of work
Continued learning is not part of the philosophy of every line of work, nor are the punishing deadlines, going back to the classroom or the habit of assimilating new knowledge at regular intervals. In those cases, when there is a major pivoting in the company’s operations, employees can actually be asked to go back to school if they want to keep their jobs. New technology is evolving all of the time and while firms will look to train existing employees in the use of new systems it is not always that easy. It may require more long term changes to the workforce, training which can take longer than a week or two and a deeper knowledge or sound mastery of the new tools to be used.
In such cases, training will most likely be accommodated by the company and it might come down to the stark choice of studying again or looking for another position. It won’t be much of a dilemma but it can be an opportunity to go for several courses and master various fields which will prove useful at work, as well as earning a proper degree. For example, we hear of many employers approaching universities asking for courses in an FEA software for their employees. Taking applied mathematics, Finite Elements Method, tolerance error analysis and mechanics of the materials can improve an employees understanding of their future role. Those who successfully pass the course will gain a higher degree which makes them more valuable to not only their employer but also other potential employers out there. In this situation an employer would be crazy not to re-evaluate your salary package, otherwise their investment in education will have been to no avail.
Understanding why you want to go back to school or need to is vital as this is a huge decision that will use a lot of time, time you can’t take back. Pondering your reasons gives you a rough roadmap of what you need to accomplish and what you will have to choose as courses, sacrifice as an investment and endure as changes. You can already tell from the first step if this is really for you and you are willing to give it your all. You won’t be prepared for it whatever circumstances you think will be favourable in the future. They may make things easier but they don’t prepare you for that comeback. It is a practical transitioning on many levels to an idea that existed in your mind. You might just as well take a leap of faith, and brace yourself for the impact. This can sound imminent but in reality, many have to face a less linear roadmap. Going back to the classroom can be a messy experience, far-fetched from the straight line that is your plan of study. We will look into it in the next segment.