When Does It Pay to Go Back to School in Midlife?

A degree or certificate won't guarantee a job. Here's how to increase chances of finding new work

by Nancy Collamer, M.S. • Next Avenue
woman computer image
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

I suspect many Americans in their 50s and 60s are considering going back to school to improve their career prospects.

After all, getting additional education in midlife – whether it’s a bachelors degree, a masters or a certificate – can be an excellent way to move into a new career, earn a promotion or make more money. 

But college isn’t cheap and there’s no guarantee that further schooling will lead to a new job or fatten your paycheck. So when does it pay to go back to school after age 50 or so?

(MORE: Why I Went Back to College)

A Midlife Degree Is No Job Guarantee
I got to thinking about this issue after my editor forwarded me an email from a distraught 59-year-old Next Avenue reader. She couldn't find a job after picking up a bachelor's degree in social work because employers said she lacked the necessary experience.
That’s an all too common chicken-and-egg predicament faced by many new, older graduates: You need relevant experience to get a new job, but you need a job to gain relevant experience.
If going back to school, either for a degree or a certificate, is something you’re thinking about, here are three considerations for choosing a program wisely, plus two tips to help you find a job after completing your studies:

How to Select a Back-to-School Program
Research employment rates for new graduates. There was a time when pretty much any college degree was a ticket to a new job. But those days are long gone.

According to "Hard Times, College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings 2013," a study just released by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the choice of a college major determines your likelihood of unemployment.

The study found that the unemployment rate was roughly 5 percent for recent nursing and education majors, but more than 10 percent for grads with degrees in architecture and information systems, concentrated in clerical functions.

(MORE: Update Your Skills at a Community College)

So you’ll want to research official employment statistics by industry before enrolling anywhere. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a good source for this type of information.

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Photo courtesy of Maria Sbytova/Shutterstock.com

Next: Why Companies Need All the Middle-Aged Brains They Can Get

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First Published Tue, 2013-07-16 11:11

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