Should you go back to college or university?

Will your career be advanced by going back to school?  Maybe, maybe not.

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Do you wish you had earned a degree when you were younger?

Do you feel left out of conversations when people quote Jane Austen?  Do you wish you could use historical examples from the Peloponesian War?

Many people feel the allure of a piece of paper certifying university graduation.  I understand the attraction.

I believe that a well-rounded education significantly improves our lives.  It makes us better citizens, better problem solvers, and more interesting people.  I  believe it makes us more resilient by exposing us to the experiences of various people and cultures.  It gives us more information for options in designing our lives.

But it doesn’t necessarily bring more money.

Have you ever met a middle-aged person who was professionally stuck, then enrolled in university—at great sacrifice to present career, family stability, and household budget—graduated, and become tremendously successful?  Neither have I.  It might have happened, but not amongst a few thousand data points in my reference.

But the person often earns less after graduation.  Here is a common scenario: a 40-year-old person feels professionally stuck, and feels angst about having no diploma.  So the person quits a job, perseveres for four years, and begins the on-campus recruiting process.  Recruiters might be impressed, but they generally prefer to hire a person with the same degree from the same university who is 20 years younger.  That choice is perceived as both cheaper and less risky.  An older person might be more experienced, but that experience is four years old.

The return on investment (ROI) of a degree after a certain age is lower than for an 18-year-old.  Worse, the ROI is lower and lower for everyone.  Earning a professional degree in a field with enforced scarcity can improve earning power.  Example: quitting work as a nurse’s aide and earning a nursing degree can earn a positive return.

school decision tree

Are you considering going back to college because you love learning, but are horrified by the cost?  I have advised thousands of careers, and I believe that with few exception, the new degree will not meet expectations.

Rather than quitting employment to study, a person could instead gain new knowledge and skills through night classes, or (less expensively and more flexibly) through lifelong self-directed learning.  With proper guidance, personal development results can be significant.

I’m not anti-education.  See earlier blog posts to see that I believe education is the best way to improve individuals and our world.


Teach yourself to be successful.  Don’t outsource your education.

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