Let’s me start by saying it depends. Great now you can punch me in the nose. No kidding. Of course it depends. A variety of factors play into the decision including your profession, career goals, time to retirement, financial wherewithal, academic prowess, workload, family commitments – the list goes on. However, there are things you can do to clarify the decision. Jump start your analysis with these three tips.
- Embrace the Informational Interview: School administrators and professors have an agenda – your tuition pays their salary. If you want to understand the practical value of a particular degree, talk with employees who currently hold the title you aspire toward. Then cross reverence that information with both HR and someone who actually hires people for the position.
- Challenge the Job Description: In fairness, there are some professions where a specific degree is a must and rightfully so. I’m a huge fan of self-directed education, but I’d prefer a doctor who actually went to medical school. Call me crazy. That said, I’ve known a few heavily “degreed” consultants who I wouldn’t trust to lead the change management effort required to switch out a light bulb.
Take time to understand what is actually needed and why. Job Descriptions often list educational requirements, but be on the look out for the phrase “or equivalent work experience” as that’s your ticket to negotiating real world experience in favor of the letters.
- Consider Educational Options: Formal degrees are not the only answer. In addition to traditional non-degree certifications, there are a variety of on-line options for upgrading your skill sets. Research the commonly accepted programs in your profession and then perform a cost/benefit/risk analysis of chasing the various options. Before committing, discuss the options with HR to determine whether these certificates will actually serve as a stand in for formal degrees.
Given the cost and time required to earn any degree beyond a bachelors, employees should treat it as a business decision and shy away from the expense if it is unlikely to produce a reasonable return.
I know several folks under forty who occupy C suite offices who only have a BA and many a PhD who will never see the executive floor. Formal education is a tool, and I believe a valuable one, but in the end, it’s all about the results you deliver. The business landscape is littered with broke intellectuals who can’t apply the textbook. If you have a passion for education, follow it. Just remember it is not the gateway it once was.
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