Tough Choices: Going Back to School. Is it Worth the Time & Expense?

It’s no secret that the economy and people all over the world are still reeling from the economic downturn. In fact, we’re finding more and more professionals are opting to go back to school with hopes to reinvent their careers in this tight job market. Indeed, some college students are pursuing higher degrees simply to delay entering the Real World altogether and perhaps with hopes of getting ahead later.

That’s all fine and dandy. But let’s not forget that attending college for the average person, at least in the United States, comes at a hefty price — literally.

The reality is that certain professional degrees, such as law and medicine, could dig you deeper in the hole when it comes to debt, but on the other side could lead to big financial gains, according to experts. Other graduate degrees, such as those involving the liberal arts and English, are unlikely to offer the same payoffs on average, they say.

But what about that MBA? Most consider this to be the stalwart of graduate degrees. You can’t wrong with it, people say. But I think it really depends on how you plan to actually use it to your career advantage.

So the question becomes: Is a graduate or other degree worth the time and money? Without a doubt, an Associate’s and/or Bachelor’s degree are certainly worth their weight in gold. So, go for it if you haven’t already.

But when it comes to more advanced credentials, it’s important to weigh the issue and think considerably about whether this is an investment you’re willing to make.

“You’ll probably be happiest, though, if you don’t dig yourself deeply in debt for a field that traditionally doesn’t pay well. Make sure the size of your investment, in time and money, bears some relation to your eventual reward,” says Liz Pulliam Weston in the 2007 MSN article titled, “Is your degree worth $1 million — or worthless?”

I spoke with Alexandra Levit, a career expert and author, about what professionals should consider in making the decision to go back to school.

She insists that job-seekers — and even the gainfully employed — often perceive  gaining new skills an impossible undertaking. Many rule out returning to school due to time commitments or expense, she says.

However, a smart move is to do your research and understand what new skills could be good for your career and the best way to get them, she adds.

“For people who are looking to fit career-related education into a life filled with other responsibilities, options exist” like flexible online and in-classroom learning, says Levit, who is a spokeswoman for DeVry University.

Check out more of our conversation, and related tips on balancing college, personal and professional life and making it work for you, in the video below:

About Alexandra Levit

Career expert and bestselling author who pens the nationally syndicated “Reinvent” column for the Wall Street Journal and featured in the New York Times, USA Today, National Public Radio, ABC News, Fox News, CNBC, the Associated Press, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and Fortune.

Alexandra has written several books, including the popular business world survival guide They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, How’d You Score That Gig?, Success for Hire,, MillennialTweet, and New Job, New You. She is a member of the Business Roundtable’s Springboard Project, which is advising the Obama administration on current workplace issues Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs – quickly and simply – and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. For more information about Alexandra, visit

About the Author

Emily Brown is the key contributor and creator of, a blog that delivers articles and posts about job industry trends; plus motivational, retrospective stories about career exploration and discovering one’s passion. She is a journalist and serves on the board of the Alliance for Women in Media, National Capital Area Chapter.

Her work has appeared in Bloomberg News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and others. Emily lives and works in Washington, DC. She can be reached at Feel free to drop her a line to say “hello,” seek advice, suggest an opportunity or story idea, or provide news of your own.