January 27, 2009

Should You Go Back to School?

With the recession reaching record-high proportions, many of the unemployed are turning to retraining rather than resume writing.

A story today on CNN’s Money Magazine focused on this growing trend to retrain, especially among the more “mature” worker.

If you are considering going back to school after a layoff, here are three questions you should ask yourself:

Can I afford the tuition?
Many states offer retraining programs, which are free or highly subsidized, for people receiving unemployment benefits. If, however, you are planning to pay for school yourself, will you be able to cover tuition out of your checking account? Or will you need to take out student loans?

While we all hope that this recession-slash-depression is short-lived, economic forecasters are predicting at least another 12 months until the rate of job loss stabilizes — and much longer until we are back to 2007 levels of employment.

In other words, despite your best intentions, it may still take you a while to find a job after you finish your degree or retraining program. Will you be able to handle the loan payments on top of living expenses? Bear in mind that student loans are one of the only forms of debt that can not be rolled into a personal bankruptcy.

Will my new career field pay as well as my old one?
The CNN story focuses on this issue, particularly amongst workers laid off from manufacturing jobs.

…starting over in a new career can often mean entry-level positions with lower salaries and less-desirable shifts. This is especially true for those in manufacturing, many of whom pulled in more than $25 an hour with just a high school diploma.

Before you enroll in classes, take some time to investigate the field. What are starting salaries like? And how much can one expect to earn after a few years on the job? Is there room for advancement? And how quickly can one typically advance? If you are in your late 40s or older, the rate of advancement is especially important, since you probably do not have another 25 years to spend working up to a senior-level position that is better paid.

Will my new profession be a stable one?
While companies and organizations across the spectrum are being hard-hit by this recession, some professions are still “safer” than other. Nursing, for example, continues to be in high demand despite cutbacks at many county-funded hospitals.

Tenured teachers also tend to fare well during a recession, although educators around the country are currently reporting forced pay-cuts and even job losses at their schools.

Other industries are notably less stable, such as tourism, entertainment, and marketing. But what if you have always dreamed of being a travel agent? While I would never counsel you to ignore your career dreams, I would suggest that you exercise caution. Revisit the above questions and make sure that you are prepared to (1) pay for school now (or pay off your loans later) and (2) wait out a possibly protracted job search after you finish your degree/retaining program.

Is going back to school on your horizon? What are you planning to study? Leave us your thoughts in the comment section!

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