Should I go back to school in a recession?

With recession fears growing, many professionals are wondering if it makes sense to go back to school in a recession.
Written by Genevieve Carlton, Contributor
A white male professional wearing a blue button-down shirt sits at a desk. He's looking into the distance and smiling slightly, holding his fist against his chin as if pondering a question.

In June 2022, the World Bank warned of a coming global recession. With economic stagnation and growing inflation, you might be worried about how to weather a recession.

"Should I go back to school in a recession?" It's a common question, especially for early and mid-career professionals. Before making a decision, work through the following questions. 

What to anticipate about employment during a recession

A recession is a decline in economic activity for at least six months. And recessions have a major impact on employment. During a recession, many employers lay off workers and unemployment numbers tend to grow. Recessions also often mean fewer jobs on the market and more competition for jobs. 

Workers can prepare for a recession by increasing their savings and expanding their skill sets. Going back to school is one way to compete for jobs in a recession.

READ THIS: Nearly half of small business owners fear recession before the end of 2022

Should I go back to school during a recession? Questions to ask yourself

Does it make sense for you to go back to school if there's a recession? Each person's circumstances are different. The following questions will help you make an informed decision.

What direction do I want to take my career in?

Consider your five-year and 10-year career goals. Are you hoping to move into a new industry? Or do you want to move up in your current field? Once you have a clear picture of the direction you want to go, you'll be able to consider the best ways to reach your goals.

For example, a professional certification or online courses might help you strengthen gaps in your current role. However, going back to school might be the best option if you're making a big career change.

Am I already competitive for the jobs I want?

Look at your resume with neutral eyes. How competitive are you for the jobs you want? 

If you're already a stand-out candidate, going back to school might not enhance your options during a recession. 

Then consider any gaps in your resume. Would you benefit from management training? Or would a certificate bolster your credentials in a key area? Now might be the right time to go back to school.

Can I learn the skills I need without enrolling as a full-time student?

Whether you're seeking career advancement or transitioning into a new field, you'll need certain skills. 

But school might not be the only option — or even the best option — for upskilling. 

Take someone interested in supervisory roles. A master's in management might help you gain valuable skills. But asking for supervisory responsibilities in your current role can offer another route to skill building that does not require full-time school. 

Would I benefit more from formal education or from hands-on experience?

Formal education helps you gain valuable hard and soft skills. But so does hands-on experience. In some fields, education matters less than your hands-on experience and skills. 

Consider which option will offer the best return on investment for your unique circumstances. When moving to a new career path with limited options for hands-on experience, formal education might offer a better value.

Am I in the financial position to go back to school?

College students spend an average of $35,000 per year on tuition, books, supplies, and living expenses. And graduate programs often come with a higher price tag. Can you handle the cost? 

A recession can mean fewer raises and bonuses. It can also lead to unemployment. So consider your financial circumstances and your options. 

You can apply for financial aid with the FAFSA, and many online colleges accept the FAFSA. There are also STEM scholarships and scholarships in other fields.

Is an investment in a degree in this field really worth the benefits?

Finally, ask yourself whether the time and money you'll invest in a degree will pay off for your career. 

Research the placement record for prospective programs. Ask about the average earning potential for recent graduates. And conduct informational interviews in your field to find out whether a specific degree is necessary.

You should also ask whether you're passionate about the degree and willing to invest time and energy into earning it. Evaluate whether you can avoid taking on debt to pursue your education. 

Weigh the pros and cons to decide whether it's worth it to go back to school in a recession.

SEE: Is an MBA worth it? A look into the finances — and outcomes

Further your education without spending money on being a full-time student: Your other options

Enrolling as a full-time student might be outside your budget. But you have other options. Consider the following ways to further your education that cost less.

Enroll as a part-time student.

Enrolling in a part-time program can help you gain valuable skills, often without the tuition bill for a full-time program. Other options include self-paced online college programs or certificate programs designed for working professionals. These options may round out your skills and boost your resume for a much lower cost. 

Take free or paid online courses.

The last U.S>  recession ended in 2009. Today's workers have many more options for online courses. You can easily enroll in paid or free online courses to gain new skills or train for a new career. 

MOOCs are a popular option for skills training, as are college courses offered online.

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