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Since the big crash in 2008, many workers, especially unemployed workers, have decided to go back to school to earn an advanced degree hoping that investing time and money in their education now, will result in a bigger job and more money later. Great idea in theory, but as far as actual payoff goes, many are finding that the “going back to school” response is not paying off the returns they expected.

Should I go back to school?

Going back to school for an advanced degree, is usually not the best answer, especially if you decide to go back straight from your undergrad and/or going full-time. And it’s really all about your motive. An advanced degree can absolutely provide you with more tools in your skill-box, but nothing beats on-the-job experience.

When making the decision to go back to school to advance your career, you should consider the following:

  • Is an advanced degree necessary in your desired field?
  • Where does your desired company/field recruit from?
  • What is more valued in the field – education or experience?
  • Can you go back to school while working your current job?


Here’s the cold hard truth – the majority of jobs out there, do not need an advanced degree. In fact, very few industries even reward advanced degrees such as financial, teaching, government, and science-based positions (there are others out there, these are just examples). But most positions in most companies, particularly large companies, can be worked into without an advanced degree. In other words, you can start in a position and work your way up the ladder. And it is usually easier to do and more respected, to approach leadership positions in this manner, versus going to school and stepping into them (this happens very rarely).

Recruiting Venues

Knowing where your desired company recruits from is important when determining not only if you should go to school, but where. Most large companies attend about five different schools to recruit top-talent (it’s not “fair” or “right,” but with budget cuts, they put face-time in at schools that support them), and if you are dead-set on working for a specific company, than going back to school at one of their recruiting locations is a good starting point.

But overall, the where you go is a bigger conversation than where the company will find you. The Human Resources or company snobbery is going to come alive right now (remember later that I warned you). This may be a bit controversial, but where you decide to get your advanced degree is there are still so many schools that are a waste of your money and time. Plain and simple. They are not “prestigious” enough or recognized enough, to gain any value to your candidacy. So if you are considering going back to school and your school of choice is like a University of Phoenix or DeVry University, DO NOT GO. It will be a waste of your money. Degrees from these types of schools, historically thought of as online-only (or online mostly) schools, hold no value – in fact, it may make some recruiters question your candidacy in strange ways: are they not great at school; are they bad decision-makers; are they going through the motions to get an advanced degree? I warned you – not necessarily fair, but absolutely what hiring managers think when they see those degrees, particularly at a large company when you will be competing against candidates who attended Ivy League schools (which is not necessary).

Field Value

It could be somewhat difficult to figure out if school or experience is valued from a distance, but you can suss it out through a little research. The best place to start, the company’s career page. Learn about their core values and see if education or knowledge is one of them. Also, research on LinkedIn their employees and see what kind of schooling the people you find, have. Do they have pay differentials for different levels of schooling? If that still does not present a clear picture, find an HR person in the mix and send them an email. Ask them directly, “in your recruiting process, does your company place more emphasis on education or experience.” And voila, you have your answer.

This should be an important part of your decision, to make sure that you are following industry-specific desires and not wasting time on schooling that will not impact your career advancement. If the industry/company does not care about the degree, than no matter how much you think it will make a difference, it won’t.

School While Working

This is the most ideal path to follow, from an employer’s perspective. It is a hard road to follow, but can bring you so much further along than quitting to go back to school full-time. You are able to gain experience and advance your knowledge in real time. It also shows your current (and future) employer(s) that you are determined to advance your career, have superior time management skills, determination, and understand that school is ONE piece of the puzzle, not the only one you are relying on to get ahead.