Do I Need to Go Back to College to Change Careers? |  monkeybusinessimages | monkeybusinessimages

You are well into your career. You’ve made all the right moves, you have a track record of success, salary increases, and promotions behind you, and yet you’re feeling bored and unfulfilled. What can you do to spread your wings and pivot into a new career path?

The most traditional historically has been to return to college to earn an advanced degree, or to study another discipline. In the economy of the past, this was a no-brainer, but is it the best approach today? Going back to college to earn a graduate degree or some other diploma can be an expensive, time intensive endeavor, and your return on your investment is far from guaranteed – even if your next diploma is from an elite and prestigious college or university. It’s important to weigh your options carefully. Here are some factors to consider:

Does the new field you are choosing require a specialized type of education?

Some jobs require specific advanced training and education. For example, you can’t just apply for a job as a nurse without a nursing degree, or as a lawyer without a law degree. But for those who have the time, resources, and aptitude to pursue such a specialized education, it’s entirely attainable to make such a change.


Do you want to jump start your career?

Presuming you like your line of work, if you want to jump start your current career, going back to college to elevate your position in your chosen field may be the best option. An advanced degree may open your world to new opportunities that would not otherwise be available, regardless of your talents and accomplishments. For example, many Fortune 500 companies have management training programs that are open only to newly-minted MBAs from top programs. Many careers have built in career progression ladders and at some employers your distance to the top may depend on your level of formal education, with the advanced degree serving as a gateway to promotion. And don’t underestimate the positive momentum an alumni network at a highly-ranked university can provide your career.


Do you need to reset your career?

If you’re not satisfied with your chosen profession, career advancement isn’t going to satisfy you. It’ll make you simultaneously wealthier and more miserable. Many individuals take a break from the workforce to find a new passion. For example, I’ve seen professionals of all disciplines (nursing, government, finance, you name it) go back to get an MBA and land new careers as brand marketers, management consultants, investment bankers, and other fields. That kind of “hard reset” can help you shift gears into a totally new career path with no penalty and, often a jump in pay. Which brings us to…


Can you afford to take the time and expense to go back to school?

If money is no obstacle and you can pay for higher education without taking out loans or making other major sacrifices, then your decision-making process will focus largely on the advantages another degree may bring to your career. But few people have such a luxury.

And yet, sometimes the risk and expense may be worth it. We are well acquainted with an individual who, in his early 40s, newly married, and with a baby on the way, was impacted by the Great Recession. He had a bachelor’s degree, and he suddenly found himself unemployed and competing unsuccessfully with applicants for jobs that didn’t require any sort of college diploma. After much deliberation, he and his wife agreed that he would return to college to get a masters degree while serving as the stay-at-home parent. He selected and was accepted to a local, elite university considered to be one of the best in the world for his discipline, but its marquee value would not come cheap. After three years of aggressive cost management, he earned his master’s degree and parlayed his new credentials into a full-time job with far more responsibility and compensation than he had ever had in his past. That said, he still has $40,000 in outstanding student loans to this day, and he needs at least one more promotion or a position with a higher salary to manage those financial obligations.


Are there good alternatives that won’t empty your wallet or consume years of your life?

Taking on continuing education that can positively impact your career doesn’t necessarily require returning to college. There may be well-regarded training or certification programs that will help you get where you want to go. You can become a computer programmer – fast – by signing up for programmer boot camps, Launch Code, or other programmers. Individuals with a passion for project management or business analysis can boost their qualifications with a certification from the

Project Management Institute (PMI). And functional subject matter experts in ERP systems such as JD Edwards, or customer relationship management (CRM) systems like Salesforce, can earn advanced certifications that can help transition into customer support or systems management roles. Certifications are often much more expedient and considerably less expensive than returning to college.


Are there development opportunities within your existing company?

Lastly, there may be new opportunities right in front of you. Many companies believe that investing in their employees improves their long-term success, and may offer internal training, continuing education, and outside certifications that will help reposition you for various roles within the organization – often in areas or disciplines you hadn’t considered. And work with your manager to see if there are opportunities to evolve your current job to include new responsibilities or participation strategic projects. These, quite often, open new doors while providing enrichment without the pain of having to change employers.

Philip Roufail contributed to this article.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at, or via the website,