Career | Education

Will Going Back to School Help Your Remote Career?: 9 Questions to Ask Before Registering for Class

No matter your situation, almost everyone will contemplate a return to school at some point in their career. For some, it’s because of a long-standing desire to finish their degree; for others, it’s to get out of a dead-end job and pursue their dreams. It’s also a common consideration by those who want to begin or get ahead in their remote careers.

But going back to school can be expensive, disruptive, and, in some cases, even unnecessary. To make the best decision for yourself and your remote career goals, consider these nine questions before filling out your registration form:

1. What are your life goals?

What’s going on in your life right now? Where do you want to make changes? Where would you like to be in five years? How about 10?

It’s not uncommon for professionals to consider returning to school when they’re feeling unfulfilled or unhappy, but while those are definitely signs that you need a change, they don’t necessarily require a return to school. Recognizing your goals and moving proactively in that direction is a far more effective way to instigate lasting change than simply signing up for a degree program without considering your options first.

Remember: If you don’t know where you’re going, no map can help you get there.

Don’t just think about your career here; one of the biggest reasons people say they want to work remotely is that they want to have more flexibility and time to devote to other aspects of their lives. If that sounds like you, it’s important to think about your goals holistically, asking what you want to get out of life rather than just work.

Here are a few resources to get you started:

2. What is the career outlook for your target profession?

Now that you have a better idea of your desired career path, it’s a good idea to look into how that field is faring, both now and looking to the future. Are opportunities in your desired industry growing or dropping off? Is the job market rapidly changing or remaining relatively stable?

The answers to these questions are more available than ever before thanks to resources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), which breaks down what various jobs entail, how many positions there are in the U.S., and what professionals can expect to be paid for that role.

The OOH can also give you an idea of what kind of education or training may be required for a particular job, which can make it easier for you to decide whether you need additional credentials to reach your goals.

3. Are your career goals conducive to remote work?

While the OOH is full of valuable information, if your ideal career path has you working remotely, you’ll likely need to do a little more research. While work from home positions can now be found in almost any job category due to the shifts brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some occupations more amenable than others to a remote lifestyle.

A few of these include:

  • Teacher or tutor
  • Digital marketer
  • Social media manager
  • Software programmer
  • Writer or blogger

Conversely, if your overriding goal is to work remotely, you may want to research degree programs that will prepare you the most for a work from home career. A few of these may include:

  • Information technology
  • Journalism
  • Business
  • Accounting

Try browsing a remote job board to see what other job options are available in your field of interest. Then consider: How will a degree help get you there?

4. What skill or knowledge gaps do you need to address right now?

With technology changing all aspects of our lives at a breakneck pace, continuing education and regular training are required in almost all fields, especially for remote professionals. The key question here is:

What do you need to accomplish right now?

Take a look at job descriptions for your target position to identify the most common education and training requirements. These could include industry certifications, hours of practical experience, or even training on critical soft skills.

If you are missing any of these requirements, you may find it a challenge to get to the interview stage in your job search, so it may be worth your while to consider enrolling in a program. Once you identify the knowledge and skills gaps you want to work on immediately, you can develop a practical plan to launch you on your new path.

5. Is college the best choice?

When people think of going back to school as an adult, their first thought is often getting a college degree. But while a degree may be necessary for some occupations, like for lawyers or nurses, in many cases, professionals don’t end up working in the field of their undergraduate degree.

What’s more, if you already have a degree that doesn’t exactly match up with your target career path, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go get a new one.

If college is the right choice, one of the best resources to research potential programs is U.S. News & World Report’s Education Rankings site. This resource provides a comprehensive examination of the country’s top colleges and includes a wealth of information for those looking for an objective viewpoint. It also explores the top choices for specific career areas, which can be useful for working professionals looking to return to higher education.

U.S. News & World Report’s new online colleges breakdown can also be particularly useful for remote professionals looking to obtain an associate’s, bachelor’s, or post-graduate degree from the comfort of home. Alternatively, if you don’t have any remote work experience, going to school online can help convince remote recruiters that you can seamlessly transition to the digital workplace.

6. What about vocational or skills training?

Before you commit to going college, it’s important to explore all avenues to find the best training opportunities for you and your goals. If you’re trying to gain new skills or address gaps in your knowledge, there may be options open to you that don’t involve a degree program.

You may try exploring vocational schools, trade and post-graduate certifications, or MOOCs (massive online open classrooms), for example.

The good news is that many of these options are available online, giving remote professionals the flexibility they need to work and continue their education. Some areas of training that are particularly conducive to online learning include industry safety courses, classes on specific software programs and technical skills, and management and leadership training.

7. What is your financial situation?

Returning to school can be a hefty financial hardship, so it’s important to consider the price tag when weighing your options for continuing education.

If you do decide going back to college is the right move for you, there are a few ways you can help ease the financial burden:

  • Save up. Use the information available on various programs’ websites to estimate the cost of going back to school. If you save up ahead of time, you’ll know you can afford to finish what you start.
  • Apply for student loans. Student loans are available for non-traditional students, too. Visit the financial aid office of the institution you plan on attending—or find their webpage—to explore your options.
  • Attend part-time. It may take longer to complete your degree program, but only taking a few classes at a time can make it easier for working professionals to afford the cost of attendance by breaking it up into chunks, as well as ensure you aren’t adding too much to your already hectic schedule. (P.S. If you are still working full-time while going to school, you may find that your employer will help cover the cost of tuition; it never hurts to ask!)
  • Explore grants and fellowships. These funding options are available, even for non-traditional students. Check with your institution’s financial aid office, local and state governments, and professional or community groups to see if any options fit your circumstances.
  • Consider community college. Many states have budget-friendly community colleges where you can obtain an associate’s degree. The credits you earn will also likely be transferable afterward, meaning you can go for your bachelor’s degree at a sometimes greatly reduced cost.

8. How busy are you?

While more money and a better job sound appealing, it’s important to be realistic about the time you will need to devote to school, if you choose to return. If you’ve started a family or have other responsibilities outside of work, it may be difficult to find time for classes—let alone the additional studying required to pass.

Be realistic about the time that will be required and try setting up a draft schedule. If you find yourself etching in study sessions at midnight or eliminating family time, that may be a sign you need to do some reprioritizing if you want to fit in school, perhaps by finding childcare or reducing your work hours.

9. Are you motivated to succeed?

After identifying your goals and the obstacles and challenges involved, are you confident you can succeed? Why? The answer to these questions will have perhaps the biggest impact on both your decision whether to return to school and your willingness to see the program through.

You may be motivated by both internal factors, like an interest in the subject matter or an overall love of learning, and external factors, like a higher salary or a boosted reputation. Either way, the motivation that drives your desire to go to school will determine the persistence and intensity you bring to your studies, so evaluate it frankly and honestly.

If you find yourself wavering, all is not lost. Here are ways to boost your motivation:

  • Make sure your goal is truly important to you. If you are considering school for the wrong reasons, chances are your motivation will not carry you through to the end. At this point, you should adjust your goal to one that better aligns with your career path and life plans.
  • Establish a support system. One of the best ways to get and stay motivated is to receive the encouragement of family, friends, and teachers.
  • Avoid overwhelm. If your motivation is suffering because the tasks seem too big, break them down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Your personal statement doesn’t have to be written all in one day.
  • Amp up your confidence. When you have low self-esteem, it can be difficult to be motivated to do your best. Overcome this feeling by reminding yourself of difficult situations where you succeeded in the past.

A Last Word

We live in a world of constant change, meaning continuing education of some sort often isn’t an option. But when deciding whether to take your studies to the next level, these questions can help you ensure that your further training will actually help you achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself both personally and professionally.

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