The Education Connection Guide to Going Back to School
For most people, deciding to go back to school and especially figuring out what to go back to school can be difficult decisions. These are extremely personal choices that should be based on your abilities and your interests. That is the only way that you can ensure success both in school and in your career.
If you are considering going back to school, you probably know that an education is the best way to increase your job prospects and salary. Plus, more money often means better quality of life – for yourself and your family.
Education Connection has put together a site that is full of resources to help you in your decision-making process. Below is a step-by-step guide to using our website in your personal journey to discovering the next steps to a better future. You will also find links to other useful career and education related sites.
Explore Interests and Careers
If you are thinking about going back to school and getting a degree anyway, why not make sure that it is for something that not only will pay the rent but also that you will love doing? Getting burnt out on the job is the fastest way to job dissatisfaction, which often leads to poor performance and getting fired. But people who love their jobs have an amazing ability to work long hours and never get burned out.
If you are not one of the lucky few who grew up "just knowing" what they want to do with their lives, you may be wondering how you even find a job that you love or if there is even one out there for you. Rest assured that there is … Most experts and job coaches agree that everyone has a career (or even careers) that is perfect for them; finding it is all about research and looking inside yourself to figure out the "real" answer.
Who are you really?
One of the best ways for you to look inside yourself is to take a career assessment test. You can even take more than one. There are many online and a lot of them are even free. Most have been created by psychologists and are based on personality tests. One such test is the O*Net Interest Profiler. The Test Drive College Online site actually has this career assessment test on their site.
The O*Net Interest Profiler asks whether you would enjoy performing specific work tasks. By assessing your answers, the test gives you a score that corresponds to 6 different personality types. The test then suggests careers that are suited to that specific personality type.
There are other personality tests you can try as well. For instance, this Career Interest Inventory also uses the same personality categories as Interest Profiler. Another example of a common career/personality test is the Jung Personality Test.
What is the perfect career for me?
The key to finding the perfect career is knowledge and research. There are many careers that sound much more glamorous than they truly are …
Take, for example, a career as an agent with the CIA. Many people do not realize that these roles are not all James Bond, double agents, and espionage. Yes, there is some of that, but the majority of intelligence agents work at desks. They go through tons of information and write reports. Unfortunately, many people go through the lengthy process of getting a federal job only to realize that it definitely is not what they signed up for. On the other hand, this common misconception also causes many people to rule out the career of their dreams.
Besides your interest, other things you want to keep in mind when looking at different career possibilities are:
- Potential salary – how much will you be making?
- Required education – some careers require a lot of education. How much time can you invest in getting your degree?
You can start your career research right here on the Education Connection site. Use the Career Center to locate careers organized by degree level and interests. You can find a description of the career and the average annual salary here as well.
The government also provides lots of tools to help you in your career search. The Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics has descriptions for over 900 careers in their Occupational Outlook Handbook. Plus the Career OneStop site has tons of resources for people trying to find career information.
Choose a Related Degree
Once you have your "dream job" pinned down (the hardest part!), you can start planning what steps you need to take to land it. One of those steps will most likely be getting the right education and training for that particular job. In your career research (see step one), you probably came across information on this topic. For instance, many careers require certification and a certain amount of education. Others may not require it, but realistically you should have a certain amount because most employers require it.
Although you may know what type of degree you need, you still have to decide on a specific degree to earn and which school to earn it at. Things to consider when choosing a school are:
- Do they have the degree you are interested in?
- Are they accredited?
- Do they have any online courses or even online degree programs?
This last question is something to seriously consider, especially if you have family responsibilities. Many people decide not to pursue a degree or their dream jobs because the have children or they have a job that they cannot afford to lose. An online degree program allows you to spend time with your family and continue working while still earning your degree at home when you have the time available.
The Tools You Need to Make an Informed Choice
Education Connection can help you make these decisions armed with the information you need to make the right school choice. Our online degrees directory allows you to browse through thousands of degrees, that way you can choose the exact one that is right for your career goals. In addition, our College Finder will match you to an accredited school that offers that degree or one similar. Also, if you want to just browse different online colleges, you can use our online schools directory.
If you are looking for other resources on line to help you make an informed choice, try the Department of Education’s College Navigator. This is a great tool for finding information on schools and programs at all levels.
Research Financial Aid
Other than time, the thing that keeps people from going back to school is money. Many people automatically assume that they cannot afford college … often times in error. There are many places to get money for college – grants, loans, and scholarships. All of these can be combined to make the financial burden of going back to school much easier to bear.
The place to start in the financial aid search is the federal government. There are numerous programs available to students – especially those that have financial need. This includes several different grants and federal student loans. You can also get grants through state and local governments. To find a more detailed explanation of all the available programs, visit our site’s financial aid section. We also post regularly on new grants and scholarships on our blog.
Filling out the FAFSA
To find out how much you will get in grants and student loans, you must first fill out the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA’s basic function is to figure out your "Expected Family Contribution," or EFC, which is calculated using information that you provide on the form about your income and assets. The amount of aid (grants, student loans, and Federal work-study) you receive depends on this amount, the cost of your attendance and whether you are a full or part-time student. A simplified explanation of how your aid is calculated might look like this:
- Cost of Attendance
- Expected Family Contribution
- Amount of Aid Given
To get a FAFSA you can fill out the form completely online at www.fafsa.ed.gov, download a pdf version of the form at www.FederalStudentAid.ed.gov, or call 1-800-4-FED-AID to request a paper form. However, if you fill it out online, you can get an immediate estimate of what you may receive.
What about Scholarships?
Like grants, scholarships do not have to be repaid and are available through a variety of sources including companies, organizations and clubs. They may be based on a variety of factors: academic performance, financial need, religious affiliation, minority status, heritage, or a unique set of criteria that is important to the organization.
Additionally, each institution may offer a myriad of individual scholarships. These scholar¬ships are school specific, so you should inquire about these when speaking with an admis¬sions advisor.
Numerous scholarship applications are available online. There are also large databases of thousands of scholarships that allow you to search by the particular criteria that these organizations require. One of these is found at the Department of Education site here.
Choose a School and Apply
You are almost there! Since you have gotten this far, you should have all the information that you need to choose the right school for you, and get the funds that you need to pay for it. If you have not yet used the Education Connection College Finder, now is the perfect time to take advantage of this great resource. It will match you to a variety of accredited colleges that meet your exact criteria – what you want to study and in what format, such as online learning.
These colleges will then contact you to discuss your education goals. This is a great time for you to ask them questions too. Examples of important things to ask about are:
- The type of accreditation they hold.
- Scholarship or grant opportunities.
- Credit for life experience.
- CLEP credit policies.
- Technical support and if they offer it.
- Books and if they are included in tuition.
- Average time students spend on courses.
You can find more information about the application process in our Success Kit, which also has useful guidance on many other college-related topics. Another great place to find advice on the application process is our Things to Know section on the Education Connection website. This "To Do List" from the Department of Education site is also a must-read and very helpful.
Enroll and Register
Congratulations! You have been accepted to college. You should be extremely proud of yourself. You are now truly on the road to bettering your future and yourself.
Now comes the fun stuff – actually enrolling in school and picking your classes. Usually, you will first be asked to sign an enrollment agreement. This may be e-mailed or mailed to you, or you may be directed to complete it online at the school's website.
This is typically a three to seven page document that contains your personal information, your program of interest, what the institution is promising you, and what your obligations to the institution are.
Once you sign the document (you may e-sign, or sign manually and fax or mail back), you are enrolled!
Picking your courses
Depending on your level of education, you will probably have to take some required general education courses in addition to courses that have to do with your major directly. Many institutions will recommend which classes you should register for first. Others may let you select from the course catalog.
Even if the college does not automatically recommend courses, you can always ask to speak to a guidance counselor. They can help you chart out the best path for you to complete your degree successfully.
In most cases, you can register online or on the phone. This will often be followed up by an email welcoming you to the school and next steps. Also, many schools offer an orientation. If you are going to a campus school, this is normally given on campus. For online schools, orientation often has the main purpose of getting the student comfortable with the online learning platform that school uses.
We here at Education Connection wish the best of luck in your education and are pleased that you were able to use our site as a resource in making one of the biggest decisions of your life.