CONSIDERING a midlife career change?
Going back to school may be your best or worst option — depending on you, the programme you choose and your unique field.
You need to be sure that your career goals and education goals harmonise if you want to achieve a successful career change.
Many midlife career changers report they are confused by all the choices they have.
Back when they entered college, often right out of high school, they considered only programmes from recognised universities taught live on campuses.
Today, you can choose online programmes, weekend courses, continuing education and career-oriented programmes to prepare you for coaching, copywriting or other new careers.
If you are considering a field like library science or pharmacy, you might discover you can get a quality degree from courses taught mostly online.
If you are considering a Master of Business Administration (MBA), you will see brochures and flyers from universities that didn’t exist 20 years ago. You may wonder if your degree will be worthwhile.
If you are considering a career that did not exist 20 years ago, such as coaching or web design, your choices will be even more challenging. Programmes can run to four figures and they may be unregulated.
Here are five questions to ask before you invest time or money:
1. Do I really need more training?
Or will your previous experience and credentials place you beyond entry level?
If you plan to work for an organisation, find out if it values credentials as much as experience.
You will also find that specific schools and degrees will be valued more than others. For example, some public relations firms want to see journalism degrees.
Many universities hire faculty with PhD degrees from a specific type of university. Some departments recognise law degrees as terminal degrees, while others do not.
2. How does the school schedule courses and requirements?
For example, you may need an Introduction to Statistics to graduate but discover that the course is offered only every two years.
3. Do I have to write a dissertation?
If so, make sure you talk to current students who are writing dissertations.
Ask the admissions office to introduce you. In a traditional programme, the department head or programme chair should be willing to make those introductions.
Some schools ease everyone through coursework with high grades, but do not prepare students for the rigours of a dissertation.
Others have high standards but dissertation advisers are overloaded, so you can be delayed even when you are doing everything right.
There are too many pitfalls to list here. You have to talk to students in the programme — not faculty, not administrators — to get realistic advice.
If you are discouraged from meeting with current students, recognise a red flag and consider enrolling elsewhere.
4. How do I compare to the successful graduates of the programme?
For example, if you look at top-tier MBA programmes in the United States, you will find that the most successful graduates are 20-somethings with a few years of corporate or military experience.
If you consider certificate programmes (such as coaching), the most successful graduates will have strong marketing skills and/or solid ties to networks of potential clients.
Do you fit the profile of the successful graduate?
You may discover that the graduates with jobs all returned to former employers. They were not changing careers; they were getting their tickets punched.
Of course, you can defy the odds and may have other objectives that will be met by completing those programmes. But you should have a complete understanding of the odds.
5. What do I know about the faculty?
Top universities will have professors who hold degrees from a variety of universities.
If most of your professors were trained by the university where they are teaching, you have to question the programme’s commitment to innovation, growth and change.