Is It Worth Going Back to School for a Career Change?

Going back to school for a career change can be an intimidating prospect. On one hand, you may be excited at the thought of reigniting passion for your career and moving toward a role that leaves you more fulfilled. However, there’s also great uncertainty. For instance, will this path pay off or lead to an unsatisfying career?

While many people return to school to gain skills for a higher role in a career change, it’s also important to note that in many cases, career changers choose to go back to school because their employer requires new skills from a higher education degree just to remain in their current position or field.

Here are a few things to consider that can help you decide whether going back to school is necessary for you to achieve your professional goals.

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Questions to Ask Before Changing Careers

Planning on returning to school, but don’t know where to start? First, you’ll have to consider degree requirements, the cost of education, family obligations, and a host of other concerns. Here are four crucial questions you should answer to decide if a return to school makes sense before making a switch.

1. What are your motivations for changing careers?

Are you genuinely unhappy in your career overall, or have you simply outgrown your current role? Sometimes, you can overcome this dissatisfaction by transitioning to a different role or company within the same industry.

However, if your job is stagnant in general and doesn’t provide many growth opportunities, a career change may be exactly what you need. Consider factors such as income, upward mobility, and relevance. Do you have the potential to improve your earnings in your current field? Do you work in a slow-moving industry with low demand or lack of innovation? Pinpoint your motivations and weigh them against the consequences of staying in your current field.

2. Have you done your research?

Have you researched the qualifications and experience needed to enter your desired field? Many careers require multiple degrees and certifications and may even have mandatory internship periods that add time to your education. Fortunately, you might not have to start from scratch.

In some cases, your existing degree could qualify you for positions beyond what you currently hold. Not only that, the skills you acquired from your current role might overlap with the experience needed for your dream job. You can determine this through researching career paths and entry requirements online or trying to connect and network with professionals in the role you want through LinkedIn.

While it’s crucial to understand the transferable skills overlap between your current and dream role, it’s equally important to identify the gaps in your experience that could act as roadblocks. Going back to school is a common solution to these kinds of challenges, but knowing what gaps your degree will fill can help you make the most valid transition in your career.

3. Does your desired job require a degree?

Are you going into a job that requires a degree, such as nursing or counseling? Many well-paid occupations like electricians, construction managers, and dental hygienists only require a vocational education or associate’s degree. If you need a specific undergraduate or advanced degree for your dream career, factor in the time it will take to finish your education—this could push out your timelines significantly.

Also, consider whether you can break into a new field via networking or certifications. Do you have a portfolio or another method of demonstrating your competency? The more you can promote your transferable skills, the easier it will be to make the transition.

4. Can you afford the cost?

Do you have the financial means to cover the cost of going back to school for a career change? While there are many sources of aid, including scholarships, grants, tuition reimbursement, and assistantships, it’s critical to do your research in advance and plan accordingly.

Additionally, it’s worth considering whether you’ll complete your degree on a full-time or part-time basis. Working while attending school requires part-time enrollment which can be a more gradual cost; however, this format can extend your education timeline significantly, depending on the program. If you choose to step back from your current job to attend full-time, you’ll need to consider the temporary loss of income during enrollment. In either case, examining your budget, exploring your financial aid options, and developing a back-to-school savings plan can help you make your career aspirations a reality.

Benefits of Going Back to School for a Career Change

Even if your desired career switch doesn’t strictly require furthering your education, there may be other reasons why it makes sense to earn a graduate degree. For one, an advanced education will expand your skill set to help ease the transition into a distinct field. Degree programs can also close the gaps in your knowledge by giving you access to industry professionals and hands-on learning experiences. Additionally, graduate degrees increase your salary potential, give you a competitive edge over other applicants, and open more doors to various job opportunities.

One of the biggest benefits of attending graduate school, however, is the networking environment it provides. Getting to know professors, classmates, and guest lecturers, who have a foothold in your desired industry, can help you connect with like-minded professionals that could help you in your post-graduation employment search.

Jobs That Require a Graduate Degree

Another consideration is the “unofficial” barriers present to enter many companies. Are you getting turned down from jobs because certain employers require, at minimum, a degree in a specific field? Employers in your chosen industry may have a preference for degree holders, even when the occupation doesn’t require a college education according to industry standards.

In fact, according to a CareerBuilder survey, 27 percent of employers are recruiting prospective employees with master’s degrees for positions that historically only required four-year degrees, while 37 percent are hiring college grads for positions that had been primarily held by those with high school diplomas. This shift has led to many people considering going back to school for a better position in today’s job market.

Here are several fields that require or strongly prefer graduate or doctorate degrees for advanced roles.

Data Scientist

These days, every business depends on data. Data drives decision-making in nearly every industry, but organizations need this sea of information transformed to reveal actionable insights for its leaders. This is where data scientists step in.

Data scientists work closely with business stakeholders to help determine goals and the roadmap to achieving them. As a result of this in-demand field, data scientists make an average of $97,140 annually, but have an earning potential of nearly $146,000. Data scientists are also rewarded with excellent job security because of its growing popularity. For example, Glassdoor’s Best Jobs in America has consistently ranked this role in the top ten based on earning potential as well as the volume of active job postings listed each year.

Most companies hire data science professionals with advanced degrees, such as a Master of Science in Data Science. While a background in computer science or math is important, nearly every employer expects candidates to build on this foundation with a master’s degree in data science, data analytics, or a related field. Without this advanced degree, you won’t be able to reach your earning potential.

Information Security Analysts

Information security analysts protect against and prevent cyberthreats to businesses. Some responsibilities of an information security analyst include monitoring possible security issues, preventing and/or repairing damage caused by cyberattacks, and training organizations on security measures.

With the growing trend of cyberattacks and cyberterrorism, it’s no surprise that this field has experienced serious growth. The average annual wage for information security analysts is around $103,000 per year, but the earning potential is nearly $160,000.

As a result of the rising demand for information security analysts in recent years, more and more bachelor level degrees in cybersecurity have emerged. While these degrees may seem like the right path, it is still an industry standard that professionals in this field hold a higher level degree compared to a bachelor’s. In fact, according to a report by Burning Glass Technologies, 84 percent of cybersecurity job postings require at least a bachelor’s degree, while nearly a quarter require at least a master’s degree. Therefore, if this is a role you’re seriously considering, it’s in your best interest to get a master’s degree like a Master’s in Computer Science.

Speech Pathologist

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work with people of all ages who have language, communication, or swallowing disorders. This career has an exceptionally high job outlook with an estimated 29 percent projected annual job market growth. The median salary for SLPs is $80,480 per year, and these professional therapists practice in settings ranging from schools to nursing homes.

Speech therapists must have a master’s degree and completed clinical fellowship to qualify for a license. Because the field has a narrow educational focus, there are highly specific degree requirements. Unless you work in a closely related field, you may need prerequisite coursework to get accepted into competitive graduate programs.

Senior Electrical Engineer

Are you interested in developing and testing electrical equipment? Senior electrical engineers have diverse career options in industries like manufacturing, aviation, medical, government, research, and telecommunication industries. While the average engineer earns a median income of $103,390 a year, a senior electrical engineer makes, on average, $107,123, with an earning potential of $143,000.

A bachelor’s degree can help you enter this industry, but it won’t help you advance to higher roles like a senior electrical engineer. To do that, you’ll need a Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Take the Next Step with Northeastern

Never assume that a career change is beyond your reach. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by your professional goals, think about smaller steps you can take toward a better future. With a little research, you may discover resources that make a career shift more attainable. If you already know what type of career you want to pursue, consider consulting a career counselor or college admissions counselor for more information.

For more helpful tips and advice on changing careers, explore our career advice archives.