Do your homework before deciding to go back to school

ON THE JOB

July 09, 2008|By HANAH CHO

For some workers looking to bolster their careers amid a slumping job market, going back to school can seem like a good choice.

"When people are trying to decide whether to go back to school or not, they ask the question, 'How would this advance me in my job?'" says Susan D. Strayer, a former Johns Hopkins University career adviser and author of The Right Job Right Now. "Simultaneously, when the economy isn't doing well, you see fewer raises, advancements and promotions so you say, 'this is a good time to go back because I'm not going to miss out on anything.'"

But here's the catch: An advanced degree doesn't always mean more money or a better job, career experts say. Nor is it the answer for everyone.

"To me, any time is a good time to go back to school, assuming you do the research and you see education having an impact on what you want to do next," Strayer says.

For starters, evaluate the impact further education may have on your earnings potential. The difference between having a college degree and not having one can be huge, for instance.

At the same time, a common misconception is that you'll automatically earn a six-figure salary with an MBA. But consider the hefty student loans you'll need to pay back and cost-of-living expenses, Strayer says.

Check out www.cbsalary.com and www.careervoyages.gov for some general ideas on how education could impact your earnings.

Jennifer Grasz, a spokeswoman for Careerbuilder.com, suggests talking to different people about their career paths.

For instance, if you're interested in business school, talk to executives who earned an MBA and those who did not. The Graduate Management Admission Council operates mba.com, which provides information on career opportunities.

And if you're switching careers, you want to speak to people who are in the field you're interested in. You don't want to be enrolled in a program that's "not the right fit for you," Grasz says.

Strayer says she decided to pursue an MBA to further her education, not because she thought the advanced degree would increase her salary exponentially.

"People make that assumption that you only get a grad degree to get a raise," she says. "I was working in corporate HR, and I couldn't read a balance sheet."

From the mailbag: Harvey, a certified public accountant in Reisterstown, had this to say about last week's column on workplace trends of the future, which include the elimination of cubicles and company headquarters.

"We will work in a cold environment," he writes.

Technology is changing how and where we work, allowing employees to work virtually from anywhere - and alone.

Harvey sees this trend as unfortunate.

"The problem that I feel will become evident after not too many years is the lack of employee contact, the lack of bonding with the other people in the firm, the lack of closeness, the feeling of togetherness, etc.," he writes.

Send your stories, tips and questions to working@baltsun.com. Please include your first name and your city.

On the Job is published Monday at www.baltimoresun.com.

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