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Making a Career Change? What to Consider Before Returning to School

Personal Finance
mature female student raises her hand in class after making a career change and returning to school

So, you've decided on a career change and are considering going back to school. Are you ready to roam the halls of a college campus again? Chances are you're excited to feel the rush that comes with learning new things and trying something entirely different. You're probably also excited about the opportunity to possibly earn more as a result of your education.

You're not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans change jobs often throughout their lifetimes. Data from the bureau shows that individuals born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of 11.9 jobs between the ages of 18 and 50. And it's safe to assume that some of these individuals underwent some sort of career change at some point in their lives.

Going back to school for a change in careers can be exhilarating, but it could also require some adjustments. Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself when making a midlife career change and going back to school.

Do You Really Need to Go Back to School?

When making a career change and considering additional education, you need to determine whether or not you really need to go back to school. You may have jumped to the conclusion that a new career must mean you need a new degree. However, that's not necessarily true if you have adequate and relatable work experience.

If you're simply looking to make a lateral move to a new company, you likely don't need to go back to school. Depending on the job you're looking for, your experience both in and out of the corporate world may be enough. For example, do you have volunteer experience that could help you land the new job? Or any hobbies? Could you learn the skill you need from a book instead of having to go back to school? All of this may reduce your perceived need for more schooling.

Of course, there are many instances where a career change would require going back to school. Perhaps the most obvious of these is if your new career requires a certification or a specialized skill set. You may also consider returning to school if you plan on entering a competitive job market or an entirely new industry. Even a promotion within the same company may sometimes require some additional schooling.

At the end of the day, it all depends on the kind of job you're seeking. So before deciding to go back to school, you might want to carefully consider what your goal job would require.

Are You Prepared to Live on Less?

Let's say you've determined that you do need to return to school for your midlife career change. This will undoubtedly affect your finances since you now have to find a way to pay for the courses. Paying for school out of pocket — meaning without loans, grants or scholarships — could really throw a wrench in your budget.

If you want to go back to school, you may have to find ways to cut back on your current expenses. Three areas that could help make the most difference (and free up the most money) are transportation, food and housing. Perhaps you could trade in your current car for a bus pass (with a student discount, of course). Consider cooking meals at home instead of eating at restaurants multiple times per week. Or think about downsizing.

Additionally, you'll want to find as many ways as possible to bring down the cost of your education. There are several options, depending on your situation. If you need to return to school for a different position with your current employer, you may be able to get them to pay for it. You can also find scholarships for those who are returning to school or for specific age ranges, locations or industries.

A midlife career change is quite common these days, and with good reason. With a rapidly changing market, sometimes the best way to earn more is to do something different. But doing something different doesn't necessarily mean more schooling. By determining what your desired position actually entails, you can then decide whether or not going to school is necessary to your career advancement. If you decide it is, you'll need to determine whether or not you're prepared to do what's necessary to pay for it.

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Information provided is general and educational in nature. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal or tax advice. Western & Southern Financial Group and its member companies (“the Company”) does not provide legal or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. The Company makes no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use. The Company disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information. Consult an attorney or tax advisor regarding your specific legal or tax situation.