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PhD, Union Institute / Doctor of Social Science, University of Leicester

Have you ever considered going back to school to either finish a degree you started or to earn another? I’d like to give you a few ideas you might consider when weighing this option.

Ever since the 1970s, we’ve seen a rapid expansion of adults with college degrees. Currently, about 25% of working adults across the nation hold bachelor’s degrees, another 10% with master’s degrees, and about 1% hold doctoral degrees. These percentages can be as much as twice as high in certain parts of the country, particularly in large cities. With employees changing jobs—even career fields—so much more frequently than ever before, the pressure to stay competitive is increasing. One of the ways to do that is with higher education. So let’s look at three examples: finishing a bachelor’s degree, getting a master’s, and even doing a doctorate.

The bachelor’s degree is a sign that you’ve learned a lot about your field of study (a “batch” of knowledge), and can support your professional work as well. Many people have accumulated college credits—or training and career knowledge that can be turned into credits—but haven’t finished a degree. For these people, a good place to go is a college that acts like a “credit bank.” These schools take in all your credits from various sources like:

  1. Transfer credit from other colleges and universities
  2. College-level examinations for credit
  3. Non-collegiate learning (such as corporate training)
  4. Military training and experience
  5. Credit for lifelong learning

The schools take your accumulated credits, bump them up against their degree requirements, then they give you a plan for finishing your degree. Each school does it a bit differently, but the “credit bank” works in a similar way at each one. (Send me an e-mail if you’re interested in pursuing this idea and I can send you the links to these schools.)

A master’s degree indicates you’ve done advance study in your field—you’ve “mastered” it. Requiring a year or two of study after the bachelor’s, master’s degrees can be done in hundreds of academic and career-related areas. Two popular approaches to doing a master’s are “night” school and doing the degree online. Going to night school (nights, weekends, or even short bursts of full-time study) pretty much follows a traditional path of going to class, but often universities offer degree programs were the classes are scheduled specifically to accommodate working adults. Online programs can now be completed from any location in the world if you have a computer and an internet connection.

You might even consider pursuing a doctoral degree. These come in two flavors: academic programs that are designed for advanced research and professional doctorates designed to advance the practice of your profession. These typically take 3-5 years (or more) of study beyond the master’s, and can be completed completely online or by research without even setting foot on a college campus. You can even complete your degree from a university overseas!

Staying competitive in the workplace and keeping up with your profession is a challenge. For some, pursuing a degree (or another one) is one way to do it.