Pursuing a Higher Education after Entering the Job Market- Is it Worth It?

These days, there are more university educated graduates than ever before.  Given the current job market, many new graduates have been having difficulty securing their dream job, or at least, they are having difficulty grappling with lowered expectations with the current jobs they have accepted.

Financial Samurai recently discussed the epidemic of young unemployed college graduates.  A whopping 54% of college graduates under the age of 25 are without a job.

Here in British Columbia, many college graduates of the local university are working in fast food joints, Starbucks, retail jobs; even those graduates with applied degrees.

Well, what if you already have a well-paying, stable job?  Should you take the plunge and go back to school or a university online for further education?  Forbes had a great article for those considering a Masters degree in tough times (2009 tough!).

That’s the decision I’ve been struggling with.  I’ll work through my decision making process with you.

I was deciding between School A, which would entail I leave my job and go to school full time.  It is a program that is in-class and not online, hence needing to be full-time study.

School B would enable me to continue to work on the side at about half my current salary, as content is delivered primarily online.  I would have to commute a few times a year to the school for in-class sessions.

There are a few things to keep in mind and think about before taking the plunge.  To me, taking on more debt is definitely not the way to go.

What is the Potential Return on Investment?

  • Many people consider education an investment.  You are investing in your career and future earnings.
  • Will this extra education give you potentially more earning power?  To be brutally honest, I don’t think there’s any point in getting an education if there’s no potential earning power.
  • How much more money will you earn?
  • With the program I was looking at, I could aim for an extra $25,000 increase in salary per annum.  If it was only $5000 more a year, I don’t think I would have bothered.
  • If there are no jobs for graduate-educated folks in your field, then that is another risk you need to consider seriously

What is the Tuition and other related School Expenses?

  • How much damage is this schooling going to cost you?
  • Will you have to commute?  Does that add to the expense?
  • With the two schools I was looking at, school A would cost $8000 for two years, and school B would cost $10,000 for two years.  With School B, I would have to commute a few times a year, which would cost $350 or so per term.

What is the Opportunity Cost?

  • Are you needing to go back to school Full Time for this degree?
  • If you’re needing to go to school full time- that also means you will lose income.
  • Depending on your income, this could be a big blow to your budget.
  • Often with highly subsidized tuition fees in Canada, the student loan debt you rack up isn’t necessarily from the tuition, it is primarily from the lack of employment and being unable to pay for the rent/mortgage, utilities, food, transportation, etc. on a month to month basis

Are there Funding/Bursaries/Scholarships Available?

  • There may be bursaries available in your chosen field of study
  • There is a lot of free money hanging around, it can be as easy as downloading a form and applying for it.
  • For example, The Yakezie has a regular writing contest whereby you could gain $600 (at least) if you are chosen first place.   The money’s there.  You just have to find it.
  • Oftentimes, many corporations pay for their students to pursue further education, even an MBA program (which can be very costly, upwards of $45,000).  You would also then have to think about how long you have to stay with the same company after you reap the benefits of education.  If you quit prematurely, you may have to pay back the $45,000 they gave you.  Every. Single. Penny.

Is this School Recognized as a Leader in the Field?

  • This is a personal preference, though it might not be worth it to go to the most respected school and still be unable to get a job (see the video in Sam’s post)
  • School A seemed to have disinterested faculty.  School B’s faculty seemed much more passionate.

So what did I decide?

Well, although School A is less expensive than School B (about $8000 compared to $12,000 for the two year masters degree), I will be able to work on the side, which lessens the opportunity cost of going back to school.  Furthermore, even though I was never a true proponent of online education, I think I’m going to adopt the mentality of “if you can’t beat them, join them” and will give School B a try.  Heck, I run a blog and love twitter, perhaps I’ve already adopted the online-learning-mentality??  I would love to do School A except that I cannot justify leaving my job, and accruing student loan debt.  I start at School B in September.  Wish me luck! (ughhhh…I’ll need it!!)

The decision of going back to school is undeniably tough.  It can be very difficult to give up the luxuries of the routine 9-5 and the constant, fat paycheck, and vacation time whenever you want (e.g. not during peak season when everyone is off school!).  Though the rewards can make it worthwhile.  I have always wanted to pursue higher education (and hoped to do it before babies start popping out, because when they do come, it might be GAME OVER for career aspirations!).

In case you’re curious about how I will manage not to go into (further) debt for school, I will continue working and may draw some money out of my saving account dedicated to going back to school.  I am also going to apply for bursaries like no tomorrow.

Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up with this blog doing full time school, part time work, and blogging :)

Readers, what do you think?  Are there any other criteria that you would add in considering going back to school?  Have you or are you thinking about going back to school too?  And finally, do you think going back to school is worth it?

About

Young is a writer and former owner of Young and Thrifty and the main "twitter' behind Young and Thrifty's twitter account. She lives in Vancouver, BC and enjoys long walks on the beach, spending time with her anxious dog, and finding good deals. If you like what you read, consider signing up for email updates.

57 Responses to Pursuing a Higher Education after Entering the Job Market- Is it Worth It?

  1. I left a secure job and a good career path to go back to school full time. Big step but one that I don’t regret in anyway. Having worked for a year, I was better at managing my time than during my undergrad days, whilst the enormity of leaving a stable job and salary encouraged me to work my butt off to justify the decision. Miss T’s definitely right on the networking front! Most of my peers were international students, which made the experience that much more interesting and diverse. I managed to land some lucrative freelance roles on the side and moved back in with my folks to cut down on living costs. That said, if part-time study had been an option, I’d have definitely jumped at that chance!

    Best of luck back at school!

    • young says:

      @Miss Moneypenniless- Thanks Miss! Sounds like you tackled that school beast head on! And took away some invaluable experiences and learning. I look forward to following in your footsteps :) I think knowing that one is sacrificing so much (for me, half a years salary!), it makes you work so much harder.

      I know that I took my undergraduate education for granted, because I wasn’t working yet and didn’t know what it was like to sacrifice a large paycheque for something (because I was a poor student and didn’t have much of a paycheque to begin with!).

  2. I have gone back to school while working full time. In fact I am not done yet. My pace has slowed down the last couple years. As hard as it is to juggle with a full time job and responsibilities at home I also find it the most beneficial. I can take my real time work knowledge and translate it into assignments. I also find it great for networking. In fact some of the people I have met in school have later on hired me.

    • young says:

      @Miss T- It’s a fine balance, isn’t it? Family, school, career… and blogging! Since you seem to juggle these things seamlessly and effortlessly, I hope I can too! That’s really good to hear, about networking- I know there’s definitely a lot of networking opportunities in my field, and I hope it will land me a job down the line :)

  3. Y&T – Is there any ability to go to school part-time instead of full-time where you are? Unless you really want to switch fields, and dislike your job, I’d think twice about going to school FT.

    The issue is, let’s say you spend the next 2 years going full-time… you should mentally be prepared to work AT LEAST 5 more years longer than what you planned to, to get a return on your investment. But, what if by 35 years old, you want to start a family, or do something different? After 10 years of working… one’s attitude towards work changes a pit i.e. gets old.

    I’d look part-time!

    Sam

    • young says:

      @Financial Samurai- Thanks Sam for your suggestions :) There is another part-time program, but its definitely not as “well known” as the one I have been accepted to. I know what you mean about priorities changing, though- boy are they ever changing. I sometimes miss being 21 without a care in the world ;) though I think I wanted to slap my 21 year old self in the face sometimes.

  4. I think it’s great that you are going back for a graduate degree. I can understand Sam’s point of view about going back part time, but part time school takes forever. Mrs. RB40 went back to school full time and she finished in two years and got a job pretty quick. She changed field though so Sam’s point is still valid.

    • young says:

      @retirebyforty- I agree, I find that there might be more of an opportunity cost in going to school part time because it will take me longer (say…4 years) and I will missing out on extra years where I could be earning higher income… though I think it all balances out in the end.

  5. Jen says:

    Congrats on going back to school this fall!

    I am also a Vancouverite going back to school in Sept. I was wondering what bursaries you are planning on applying for? I’ve applied to the BC Student loan program (they have some bursaries) and I’m not eligible because I have too much money saved :( I’d love to hear other places you’ve found to help you fund your education! Thanks

    • young says:

      @Jen- There are some bursaries available to me through work, and most of the ones I’m trying to apply to are quite specific. I wish I could be of more help! Have you tried looking at the websites on funding opportunities your school offers (that’s usually where i look too)? But just want to say congrats on going back to school too! Well, its a good thing you have too much money saved, I guess!

  6. Oh, just a follow up… if you are set on your decision to go to the online school for 12K, then congrats!

    12K is pretty dirt cheap compared to the US. It would cost double to quadruple that.

    The online schooling thing hasn’t caught on much here in the US. We’re going through congressional investigations on the value and return for students.

    However, do whatever you think will make you happy. Education is priceless, really.

    • young says:

      @Financial Samurai- Yeah, school is heavily subsidized here in Canada (though most students won’t know it, since they protest about tuition fee rises regularly). I’m surprised online schooling hasn’t caught on. It’s pretty popular here in Canada, well BC anyway.

  7. No Debt MBA says:

    I’m headed back to school full time this fall. I wish my program only cost $12k! The median salary out of my MBA program is about $45,000 more (bonuses and other compensation aside) than what I make now and I think the degree will allow me to further grow my career. I’ve taken online courses in the past and have really enjoyed the flexibility. I don’t think the format adversely impacted how much I learned.

    • young says:

      @No Debt MBA- I’m very glad to hear that. I was worried about learning via online format. Congrats on getting financial funding for your MBA- looking forward to seeing your progress on graduating with your MBA with no debt- definitely no small feat!

  8. Country Girl says:

    Congrats on decision to go back to school. I decided to do all my education in one big long stretch, and there’s not much point to going back and getting a PhD in my field – it wouldn’t advance me any further position-wise. What’s important now is getting work experience.

    • young says:

      @Country Girl- That’s good you decided to do it in one long stretch- I think it’s definitely much easier that way. I’m actually a little nervous about going back to school, just because i haven’t been in school for 5+ years now. I can’t imagine what it might be like for those who haven’t been in school for 20+ years!

  9. krantcents says:

    Additional education usually helps a career. When I entered teaching, I had to return to school (at age 55) to get a teaching credential. It was not fun going to school until 10PM, however it was worth it in the long run. Maybe that is how you should look at it, you are sacrificing now for the rewards later.

    • young says:

      @krantcents- Thanks krantcents, you’re always so good for helping me look at things from a different perspective.

  10. MoneyCone says:

    Depends on the field. But a compromise with a part-time course is a good option. That’s what I would do!

    • young says:

      @MoneyCone- Yeah, I would probably do it part-time but the program doesn’t offer part time classes. I’m just glad I can still work while going to school.

  11. Henway says:

    I think going back to school is necessary for some professions, but not for others. If you’re self motivated, there’s really no reason to go to school.. you can easily learn more by picking up the matter by yourself.

    • young says:

      @Henway- That’s true, but sometimes some professions require you to have the credentials to back up what you’re doing ;) Like for example, law school- you don’t want a lawyer who ‘self-taught’ himself or herself, do you?

  12. Hey Y and T, I wrote my own article on the topic a little while back:

    http://www.myuniversitymoney.com/graduate-studies-a-good-investment.html

    I agree, formal education without the payoff isn’t worth it. Education for your own benefit such as reading books however, is definitely worth it for a variety of reasons!

    I personally am going back to school while working full time, however being that I am a teacher I have a load of natural advantages. Not the least of which is a summer full of time to study.

    Personally, what made the decision for me was the range of options that open up within my field with a masters degree as opposed to my B.Ed. I also seen how tough it was for people trying to do this with a young family and decided I definitely did not want that stress, so I had better get started on it sooner rather than later!

    • young says:

      @MUM- My friend who’s also a teacher just recently finished (or maybe she’s still working on the thesis) her M.Ed. I agree that it definitely opens up a lot of doors. Here in BC, I know that the pay scale jumps substantially for teachers with a masters degree. I have a colleague doing his Masters while working full time with two young children at home, and he seems STRESSED. Definitely agree that its better to start it sooner than later :)

  13. June Young says:

    There are companies that encourage further studies of their employees. One should look into that but make sure that you are comfortable with your company sponsor because you’ll definitely have to work with them for the long-term. I think there are people who go to school because they are passionate about their field of study but to be honest not a lot of people consider the earning power of their degree. It’s good that you pointed that out. Practically, you will want a degree you enjoy but the more technical your degree is, the greater is your value to the economy. Really think about that.

  14. Lindy Mint says:

    It sounds like you made the right choice. There is a ton to consider, and the price and convenience of online sounds perfect.

    It’ll be hard work, but it will go by fast.

    • young says:

      @Lindy Mint- Very true. The only problem is to make sure I am able to learn via an online format. And that I have good vision coverage on my extended health, LOL (with blogging and school I think I will be on the computer 24/7).

  15. Untemplater says:

    You bring up a lot of good points. A lot of it depends on the industry and career path someone wants to take. Sometimes taking internal training classes or a managerial class online or at a local community college is climb the ladder in a corporation. Other times people have to hop companies to get promoted so it helps to ask around and hear the backgrounds of people in the senior management of your firm.

    • young says:

      @Untemplater- Definitely. My boyfriend is actually taking the opposite path/route/journey- in the past 5-6 years, he’s worked at about 4 different companies and finds that its easier to get promoted this way. I guess for the young generation Y, the process of working your way up in a company is less prevalent.

  16. CF says:

    It’s definitely a tough decision, especially if you’re leaving a job with a steady salary and benefits. I think you made the right choice!

    For me, all I had to do was look at my current job’s salary prospects over five years versus the entry level salary of a job in my new field, and the decision was almost easy. Cost-wise, it didn’t hurt me too much as I worked full time while taking part time classes for the first year. My employer paid for the classes and I saved up money for my remaining tuition. In my second year now I’m doing full time classes – tuition money is in the bank and I work 20h/week + freelancing for everything else.

    I’m not able to save as much of course, but after this year (2 years total), I will be at a salary range that would have taken me 6-8 years to reach had I stayed at my old job.

    • young says:

      @CF- Ughh I know! Hard to give up that pay cheque. Thanks CF for the validation about it being the right choice. You sound like you have thought very carefully and planned your return back to school really well! Very well executed, my friend! Are you excited to graduate soon? :)

  17. I’m not convinced a masters degree is the best option – especially if you need to take on any debt or freeze your financial development to do so. I agree w/ Sam that PT would be a great option if you feel a Masters will help you.

  18. Have you considered the entrepreneurship route? Sure the higher education may bring in an additional $25,000/year, but the sky is the limit when you go out on your own. Tim Ferriss’s book “The 4-Hour Workweek” was very inspiring and opened my eyes to the world of work. When I was your age I considered both options, School A or B….I wish someone had presented option C (entrepreneurship) to me then.

    I wish you the best of luck!!

    • young says:

      @Kanwal Sarai- I have a belief that the best career would be a mixture of working for someone and working on your own (entrepreneurship). You get the security of having a job, and the fun of controlling your own business (even if its small). The sky is the limit for entrepreneurship but then again there are lots of businesses that can flounder too. I haven’t read that book yet- heard lots of people who have though- it’s definitely on my “to read” list. Thanks Kanwal- I’ll be sure to keep that option open too.

  19. Little House says:

    Three years ago I decided to go back to school and earn a teaching credential (an increase in income of about $15,000 to start once I’m credentialed). So far, I have been able to continue working and go to school part-time, limiting the amount of student loan debt I’ve accrued. However, next semester (which is my last one -whoo, hoo!) I’m going full-time to finish up the student teaching portion of the requirement which means I can’t teach for money (such a bummer.)

    Of course, the crummy part of all of this is when I decided to go back to school, our local districts weren’t as broke as they are now. There are hardly any teaching jobs available. So another thing to consider is trying to predict what the employment rate in that subject area will be when you finish. ;)

    • young says:

      @Little House- That is a good point- the employment rate in the subject area when I finish– the extra $25,000 will be a moot point if the employment rate is zilch :( Hopefully that’s not the case. Hard to say what the future holds. Though, if the credentials you earned aren’t recognized in your school district, they may be recognized somewhere else… (e.g. overseas at an international school?)

  20. Great topic for discussion! This is something I’m thinking about as well. I have a Bachelor’s and I’ve been on the job market for about 3 years now, and I feel it’s time to advance a little bit. Whether this means another job, going back to school part-time or what not, I haven’t decided yet. I would like to get a Master’s at some point but I want to know that it will be useful toward my career and life, and not just a paper on the wall.

    • young says:

      Invest it Wisely- Yeah, I agree- I wouldn’t get it just for the paper on the wall- I definitely don’t think the purpose of education is for that, though I’m sure some may say otherwise. Furthering one’s education is such a good opportunity, especially when one has the experiential background to compare what you’re learning to stuff you’ve already learned– I think it enriches education for sure, in that aspect.

  21. We pay for it later in taxes but I bet if they raise tuition, they will not lower taxes anyways, so let’s take advantage of it while we can! :)

  22. RetireOnTime says:

    Very informative article, I enjoyed reading it! Honestly, the first thing I think of is similar to your thoughts on how taking on more debt is not the way to go. I feel like my previous educational experience has still left me with plenty of debt, mixed with a feeling of uncertainty of the direction in which I should turn to next for future employment. I will say that the advice given by Kanwal Sarai, about the entrepreneurship option C, is the type of forward thinking that more recent college graduates need to spend time doing in order to take initiative with the job market search and increase their earnings without falling back to the traditional blueprint of a higher education = higher paycheck.

    • young says:

      @RetireonTime- For sure- there are a TON of start ups created by young people (23-28 year olds) these days and they are very successful! Too bad I’m not of the computer savvy time, otherwise I would be creating an iphone app just like that. ;)

  23. Caitlin says:

    I’m so glad you brought this up. I am a marketer and I have a job in a growing industry / company and I’ve dabbled with the idea of getting my MBA part time. CHA CHING – I can hear the school taking me for all i’m worth now.

    I’m still in debt too….so I figure I’ll think about it over the summer and if I feel its really worth it, then I’ll start prepping for gmat’s.

    Keep us updated!

    • young says:

      @Caitlin- Sounds like you’re giving it some good thought- thinking about it over the summer is a good idea. I was originally planning to apply for it last year, but gave myself another year to save up some more cash and get some more experience in my field.

  24. Another thing to consider — if one college has a better reputation than the other, does that impact the amount you can earn and/or your likelihood of getting a job after you graduate?

    There are several colleges and universities that have lower pricetags but don’t impress anyone, while some more expensive schools provide instant recognition and prestige upon the graduate. Better-ranked schools also give the grad a strong alumni network — often, you find opportunities based on “who you know,” and having a powerful alumni network can help you meet those people.

    • young says:

      @Paula- Good point, as always Paula! What impressed me was actually meeting the alumni of the schools- those that graduated from the school I am planning to go to in the fall seemed much more confident in what they were doing, and were excellent at their job- true “idols” so to speak. It was one of the major reasons I picked that school.

  25. Jessica07 says:

    Outstanding article!!! You laid out the points of consideration really well. I’m going to forward this on to a few people that are planning on… Wait. Scratch that. I’m just going to post it onto Facebook.

    Well done. Thanks for taking the time to share all of this with us. :)

    I recently had to make the decision whether to pursue further education (I already have two B.A. degrees and Paralegal Certificate). After all the considerations (plus the reality of what moving would do), I decided to pursue working from home. I was able to put to use the degrees I had and I make more money working from home that I could have ever hoped to find in town. :)

    • young says:

      @Jessica07- Thanks Jessica!! Spreading the word is always much appreciated :) That’s great- sounds like you made a good decision after careful consideration. Glad it’s working out well for you. It is so hard- as a female to find balance, to plan for the future, to think about sacrifice (e.g. if I don’t do this now, when will I be able to do it? What if being a mom consumes my life?).

  26. Leah says:

    NOT WORTH IT (usually).

    When Generation Y’s parents graduated from college and university they left with around $100-$1000 in debt. They were able to pay for tuition, a car, an apartment, books, insurance, groceries, and a couple fun things like the movies, all from working a part-time job during the summer or school year.

    Now, when students are leaving school they’re leaving with anywhere from $10,000-$200,000 worth of debt. They most likely weren’t able to afford a car, insurance, groceries, an apartment, books, and entertainment working a part-time job during school or for the summer.

    If you add up how much you pay for school, how much you have in debt from school, and how much income (and work experience because remember you always have to start at the bottom and work your way up to a higher income) you have missed for the years you were in school…. it’s not usually worthwhile.

    SOME professions you need a degree or certificate but 90% of the things people go to school for are utterly useless and will not get them a job in their desired field or the income they aim for.

    For the record, I’m PRO online learning. You save on gas, you save on the coffee and food you buy going to and from class, you get more personalized teaching, you can ALWAYS make it to class, no matter how hung over you may be (lol), and more than anything… what’s the difference? You want to get the highest QUALITY education possible. Most online courses are taught by quality professors with a lifetime of experience.

    Don’t go to school if you can help it. Make a job, don’t find one. It’s cheaper and will make you just as rich.

    • young says:

      @Leah- I’m watching the video right now- it’s fantastic. Thanks for the link :) It reminds me of Michael Moore’s style. I am saving money for school and am not planning to get a student loan to fund school, so that’s one of the primary reason I am doing school online. I’m glad you’re PRO online learning- I love the benefits too (I could be in Hawaii and learning! lol), and I am starting to get more and more cozy with the idea.

  27. Leah says:

    P.S.

    I HIGHLY recommend watching this video. It’s slowly making an impact on youtube. It IS a REAL documentary so it’s an hour long but I promise it will inform you for your decision about whether to return to school or not. Best of luck whichever path you choose :)

    http://youtu.be/VpZtX32sKVE

  28. Jeffery says:

    I am just over 50 and have health conditions that forced me out of jobs that require shiftwork. I have returned to college taking Computer Programmer Analyst and hope to get a job when I graduate. The course I am taking is a co-operative education couse so I am supposed to have a co-op job over the summer 2010. I was unable to land a co-op position so I returned to school for an academic semester instead. I am relying on OSAP right low to feed my family of 5. I’d rather be working as Social Security doesn’t pay enough to feed and house my family due to the Harper cuts. If I can’t land co-op positions throughout my course, I won’t graduate. If I can’t land a job after I complete the course, I’ll have no money to pay back OSAP. But what can you do. Not much. At least my family gets taken care of for a few years. I’m sure there are lots out there in the same boat that live in Canada.

    • young says:

      @Jeffery- Sorry to hear about your situation. That’s the inherent risk about returning to school… many people go for further education especially when there are lay offs or when the economy is down (which of course makes sense). Though it’s scary to think that there may not be a job when you finish school and you’re having to pay back all the student loans. I hope you will be able to find a job when you graduate- the field you have chosen sounds very promising!

  29. degrees says:

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  30. Ajoke says:

    This article pretty much sums up my life. I’m going to go back to school to finish my bachelor’s but I’ve already done quite well for myself without a dregree finding good jobs with opportunity for advancement. I am not going to sacrafice working full time just to go back to school, to me it’s just really not worth it.. I don’t particularly enjoy the school environment or experience. I’ve always been a hands on learner and someone who prefers to hustle my way to get what I want.

    However, I am a big believer in lifelong learning and education and I want to go back and finish with a degree that would help me strengthen and legitimize my writing abilities. Good luck to you on your journey, great blog by the way!

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