The idea of going back to school to enhance your career is one often talked about in the working world. It’s the reason so many universities are offering executive MBA programs, opportunities to combine JDs and MBAs, and more. And though the upsides of going back to school can be incredible – more money, a better title, a clearer path to leadership – the downside is a no-brainer: debt.
There are ways, however, to protect your checkbook while continuing your education. Many colleges and universities offer non-degree seeking learning programs that can enhance your career in the same ways a degree might. A few things to look for:
- Reputation counts. Like degree programs, the school’s reputation can mean a lot. Getting a certificate in leadership or organizational development from a top school could actually mean more on your resume than an MBA at a school that has a so-so reputation.
- How many people will be in the program? Look for small cohorts, but not too small. In a certificate program, you’ll get to know people very well, so look for programs with 15-20 on average in your classes. That way, the class is big enough to have diverse backgrounds and industries, but small enough to produce good connections.
- What access do you get? Many universities are starting certificate programs to keep up with the times. Look for those who have a history with the certificate you’re getting. And ask about the alumni of the program. Do you have access to them through a database or LinkedIn group? Can you utilize career services or other offices of the university? Great certificate programs won’t consider you a second class citizen because you’re not degree-seeking.
- Can it lead to or add to a degree program? When I enrolled in the Leaders of the New Millennium certificate program at St. Kate’s in 2007, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever want to go back to school. But I was excited that the credits from this program could be applied to a Master’s in organizational development at a later date if I decided to pursue it. Many MBA schools have business and leadership intro certificates which can also later connect to MBA credits. This could help with costs and prerequisites later on.
Getting in a classroom can do innumerable things for your career:
- It shows your boss and leadership that you are dedicated to learning and advancing.
- It can give you a new network with which to look for jobs and build your networking base.
- You may find it sparks your want or need to go back to school for a degree without risking a semester of hell and losing a lot of money.
- It could allow you to change careers by refocusing your studies.
Life-long learning is more important now than ever in the business world. And your initiative to learn could set you apart both within your current company and in job interviews. It’s never a bad idea, as long as you do it right.