5 Questions to Ask Before You Go Back to School

Getting a degree is a great way to boost your professional opportunities (or can even help in pursuing a career switch). Here are essential questions to ask yourself before you take the leap.

Feeling like your career progression has hit a wall? Not fulfilled in your current job? Think you’re capable of more? It might be time to take your education to the next level to expand your opportunities. But before you jump in headfirst, there are some important questions to ask yourself.

1. Do you know what to expect?

Sue Maitland, a licensed life transition coach in Victoria, says she always tells her clients who are looking to switch careers to do their research before signing up for a course.

“I really recommend you research the position you’re striving for by talking with people who are already in that role,” Maitland says. “Ask them open-ended questions such as: ‘What do you enjoy most about what you do?’ and ‘What’s one aspect of your job you would eliminate if you could?’”

While a job or career may look great from the outside, she says, if it mostly consists of aspects you’re not interested in then switching might result in you being just as unsatisfied as before.

2. Can your employer help out?

If you really like the company you work for but just want more opportunity, Maitland suggests speaking with your employer before looking at re-schooling.

“You may not have to go back to school or do it yourself; your company may support you,” Maitland says. “Before you assume that you have to do that, talk to your employer and let them know what your interests are to see what possibilities exist for you to transition.”

3. How will you finance the shift?

Unless your employer will pay for upgrading your education, you may have to fund it yourself. If you have the savings, great, but don’t give up hope if you don’t have enough saved. Do talk to the financial professionals at any institutions you are considering. You may be eligible for a student loan, in which case you’ll want to weigh the burden of a loan against your future earning potential in a new career.

With a huge hiring shortage in B.C. right now, some professions actually pay for people to upgrade or enter new careers. Check studentaidbc.ca for information about B.C. access grants, designed to encourage eligible students to attend high-priority programs at eligible B.C. post-secondary institutions.

Finally, check out grants, scholarships and bursary opportunities. Many organizations such as clubs, unions and religious organizations provide grants. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

4. Are your expectations in line?

You also want to make sure your prospective job or career offers the salary range you need.

Maitland says changing careers may not offer a higher salary, which was the case when she switched careers from IT to licensed career coach.

“I took a big pay cut to do it, but it was a conscious decision, and I knew I wouldn’t want to retire, and I know I’ll be working longterm,” Maitland says. “So even though I’m not earning as much as I would have had I stayed in IT — and where I would have been unhappy — it was a conscious decision. I’ll still be doing this in my 80s … because it brings me so much joy.”

Another thing to keep in mind: working and living in Victoria is a goal for many people, according to Maitland. Since the job market only has so many higher-paying jobs, a move out of the city may be required to start a new career once you’ve upgraded your education.

5. How’s your support system?

Education takes time and energy, so make sure you have a support system.

“Are you willing to do this?” Maitland asks. “Think of your family. How will your studies impact them? Are they supportive and perhaps willing to take over some of the tasks you usually do in order to give you time to study?”

If they aren’t, do you have the strength and resources to pursue your path?

Next steps

If you’ve considered these five questions and education is the clear path forward, then look into courses and programs that work best for you. Taking this step will open up exciting new prospects for your future, and going in well-informed is the best way to ensure your future success.

This article is from the February/March 2020 issue of Douglas.