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Are you ready to go back to school?

By Shivani Manchanda
Last updated on: April 13, 2010 13:18 IST
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While most working professionals are quite content to continue on the track their careers have taken and patiently wait for the next promotion to come their way, there are some who seek to make a leap -- a leap into a better job, a better profile, a better salary or a better industry.

If you count yourself among the latter, heading back to the classroom to improve your skills or imbibe new ones might be the way to go. To help you decide on whether further education is for you, education counsellor Shivani Manchanda shares some important considerations you need to take into account.

"What we are is God's gift to us. What we become is our gift to God."

When I was a little girl this statement always graced some corner or the other of my study table. I have painted these words in all colours of the rainbow, I have used dried flowers to decorate these words and more recently bought posters proclaiming the very same words. For many years and even now (deep down) it has been my life mission statement.

For a long time I did not now that Ms Eleanor Powell had written these words -- but I am extremely grateful to her for having written them -- for they have had a moving impact on my and many other lives known and unknown to me. These words encapsulate the deep aspiration of a person to become somebody better, and in some way more capable. Aspiration and ambition are about the greater possibilities that we all can achieve through our work or careers. 

Learning new skills is very often the means to these greater possibilities (power, money, fancy vacation, etc) that we all aspire towards. A vast majority of the learning happens at the workplace and in real life. You may have learnt Photoshop and Corel from a friend or C++ from books. Amit, a vibrant student of mine, was a student of chemical engineering. He worked at TCS and knew every bit of programming that needed to be known for his job. But he found that getting to the next level was difficult unless he documented what he knew through a qualification. I helped him to go to the US to do his Masters in Computers Science and he is currently working with Microsoft in Washington.

He recently bought a house for his parents in Mumbai, a project that would have been impossible earlier. But more importantly, he is passionate about his job and enjoys every bit of it.

If you find yourself in a similar position as Amit then let's weigh the pros and cons of the decision -- will going back to university make sense for your career at this stage?

Let's look at some of the considerations that you need to take into account when deciding whether to go back to school.

Enhanced salary expectations
There are several reasons why you might be considering going back to college. The higher education qualification can increase your salary expectations in the market and the possibility of a promotion could egg you on. A quick look in the newspaper indicates that education of potential employees is what the maximum number of job adverts specify. So if you are slogging it out with a Class XII background, then it is time to take another look at the neighboring study centre of an open university or the college next door.

But if you have already enjoyed the hanging out at the canteen routine and worked towards a Bachelor's degree then a higher qualification like an MBA or an appropriate Master's/PhD can lead the way.

For example if you are a computer science professional then specialising in internet security or management information systems could help you make the next cut.

Transferability of  skills and flexibility
If you have been working at the same kind of job for many years and now are bored of it, then higher education can give you the platform to consolidate your skills with a theoretical framework such that you can move on to another sector and use your skills in a different framework.

A management degree is the usual vehicle many people use to get their resume ready for a pan-sector job. But in your case it could be totally another qualification that will give you the transferability you seek.

Certification of skills acquired on job or retraining
Let's face it, the world looks at qualifications you have picked up and believes the degree document makes you ready for a certain kind of job. So you might know all the programming that is needed for the job but the offer might be made to a person who has the skills and the qualification to document that.

If this is the predicamentyou find yourself in, maybe it's time to have another go at the education world to basically help you get a stamp indicating that you know what you say you know!

Sometimes it may not be a degree but a professional certification that is the way to go if you are looking for a job that matches your pre-existing skills or your skills need updating / polishing.

What about my salary?
The opportunity cost in terms of the salary you may have earned if you did not quit your job and go back to full-time college, is something you have to factor in. Whether you and your family be able to live comfortably without that salary is what will determine the answer to the question: should I go back to school full / part time or use the distance learning method?

The opportunity cost could be a lot higher if you are running your own business -- in which case you will need to find a manager to help you run the business while you are away.

The sacrifices you will make however are all in your commitment to being a better and a more fulfilled professional.

In the one year that I mentored Amit, I would repeatedly say to him: "Education is one asset in your life that nobody can take away from you." Education remains in my mind the wisest investment I made in my future.

If life has given you the tools to excel then it is your responsibility to sharpen and thrive on them, instead of letting them get dull and wither away. So take a good look at your career, your goals and take the leap.

Shivani Manchanda is director of Career Track. She has been an international educational counsellor since 1991. Log on to her website

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