Since I was a college professor for many years, people ask me about university programs for a career change. Often they’ve been told that a new degree can be a magic key to unlock a new career.
A new degree can be helpful, but it’s also quite costly. You might have opportunity costs as you give up paid employment. You almost always incur significant tuition costs.
The wrong degree can actually get you fired.
Several years ago, Sixty Minutes reported a woman who’d innocently earned a doctorate from a diploma mill. Believing she had embellished her resume, she was uncovered after she asked people to call her “Doctor.” And then she was fired.
In today’s world, you may have trouble gaining access to a program that’s taught live. Therefore you’re relying on remote learning…which may make it easier to work around your current career, but harder to use for a meaningful career transition.
Here’s how to decide if you’ll gain value in proportion to your costs.
(1) Before you invest in a degree, try out your new career in small doses.
Begin by interviewing for information. Do you really want to embark on this new career? Are there some things nobody’s going to tell you unless you ask?
For instance, if you’re a K-12 classroom teacher — in a world where you teach live classes — you have limited freedom during the day. And in some fields, you’re considered ancient if you’re over 35 at entry-level.
(2) If you’re still interested, review a few schools or universities that offer degrees in your area of interest.
Here’s what’s most important: Ask for names of people who have graduated one, three, and five years ago. The alumni office may have to initiate contact, but you should find a way to get this information. Once you get one name, you can get more.
Ask these alumni, “Did your degree help you get your job? Advance in your job?
“Would you have done better with a degree from another school? Or would you have done as well with a degree from a lower-ranked school?”
One career-changer “Tom” was considering a for-profit university, although many acquaintances discouraged him. The university was accredited regionally.
The career office referred Tom to a certain “Dr. Gamadge” who was working in a hospital. Impressed, the career-changer looked him up. Turned out Dr. Gamadge got an Ed.D. from a for-profit university and was now working as a lab tech.
(3) Seek guidance from students and alumni, not faculty or administrators.
Professors must support their own programs, even when they want to say, “You can do better elsewhere,” or, “This program is a waste of your time and money.”
And these days, anyone with a title like “Admissions Director” or “Enrollment Management” may be trying to make a sale, not offer objective guidance.
(4) Investigate alternatives.
You may find an equally satisfying career that offers on-the-job training. You may be able to enter sideways, using your current skills to get.a foot in the door and then switch departments. You might be able to get the knowledge you need through low-cost MOOCs like Coursera and edX.
(5) Don’t expect miracles.
No degree program offers a magic bullet. Ultimately you may win the job and career success by your power networking as well as your social, interpersonal, and technical skills.
Don’t like one option? Try another. There are many paths to career fulfillment, not just one. There is no way for a single career coach, consultant, or counselor to know the ins and outs of every career. You should be guided through an exploratory phase, not steered in one direction.
I”m Cathy Goodwin, a former college professor who’s still committed to learning. After teaching in business schools for 20+ years, I know practice what I used to preach (sort of). I work with small business owners and career changers who want to find their stories to transform their companies and their lives.
Click here to get my free guide to mid-life career change.
I’ve also got a low-cost guide to returning to school at midlife. Click here to learn more.
Originally published at https://midlifecareerstrategy.com on October 1, 2020.