Are you considering continuing education to advance your career or make a transition to a new career? This guide offers tips to help you succeed as well as links to additional resources so that you can make the most of your time and energy while returning to school.
Many Paths to Continuing Your Professional Education
There are many options when it comes to the ways you can pursue continuing professional education. Choosing what will work best for you will depend on your career ambitions, your field, and your path to career success.
In some professions there is no substitute for a specific degree. Degree programs include a variety of classes taken over several semesters. They take anywhere from 1-4 years to complete and include coursework in your chosen field as well as elective classes.
Some fields, particularly technical disciplines, use certification programs to ensure their workforce has the required knowledge base for advanced positions. Certification programs tend to be very narrowly focused around a very specific set of skills, tools, or computer programs. They often take much less time to complete than degree programs but they can be time intensive.
Some professions prefer to use licensure to make sure that professionals in the field are keeping up with policy changes in the field. They sometimes involve coursework and in many cases include a proctored exam. Once a specific license is achieved, you may be required to take a course annually in order to keep your license up to date.
In-Person vs Online Continuing Education
One of the important decisions you will need to make is whether you would prefer in-person or online classes.
For many working people, online classes can offer some major advantages including saving valuable time on a commute and offering a more flexible schedule. However, some people find the technology of online learning to be a barrier to their learning, while others do better with the community provided by in-person learning.
Choose the Right Program
Choosing the most effective continuing education program for your career needs requires taking several factors into account.
First, you will need to have a strong sense of the trends in your field. Where are the growth areas? What skills will be most in demand in the next 5-10 years? It is important to think beyond your current position and invest in a program that will help you succeed into and beyond your next level of advancement.
Second, it is important that your education helps you develop your professional skills in a way that will leverage you towards your ideal career. Develop a clear sense of your career path to be sure that you can choose a program to best serve success defined on your own terms.
Third, do your research to be sure the programs you are applying to are certified and well respected in your field. If you are unsure, consider consulting with others in your professional network who may be more knowledgeable. Potential resources include career mentors, human resource professionals, or career counselors at your local community college.
Continuing Education for a Career Change
One of the best ways to make a transition to a new career is through continuing education. A new degree, certification, or license will facilitate your shift into a more fulfilling job by making the transition smoother.
Key to make this strategy successful is to take advantage of opportunities at your current job to pick up transferable skills, build a professional network that you can leverage in your new career, and maintain solid relationships at your current job in order to secure strong references.
How to Pay for Continuing Education
There are a variety of programs that may be available to you to ease the financial burden of going back to school.
One of the first places to research funding is through your current employer. Because many employers want to invest in the professional growth of their workforce, many offer programs such as tuition reimbursement or free in-house training. To learn more, check with your human resource department.
Federal loans and grants are another source for funding your continuing education program. Most programs that are eligible to receive such funds will have a financial aid advisor team to assist you.
Because they do not have to be paid back, scholarships are another source of funds to pay for continuing education, although they tend to be much more competitive than federal loans and grants.
How to Apply for Degree and Certification Programs
Getting into the right continuing education program can be a challenge. Some fields are highly competitive with a limited number of seats. It is advisable to apply to your top 3-6 programs to be on the safe side.
Staying organized as you apply for programs is half the battle. As you are researching the different classes and programs available to you, make sure to note any important application deadlines so that you don’t miss them.
Make note of any additional requirements you may need to fulfill at the time of application. For example, you may need to write a personal statement or send certified copies of your high school or college transcripts.
Find Work/Life/School Balance
If you are already working, going back to school can be extremely challenging. For those with families at home, another layer of complexity is added. Finding a good balance is critical to success.
Start slowly by taking a few easy classes. This way you are setting yourself up for success while learning how to strike a balance among life’s many obligations.
Leverage friends and family support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the people you love and trust. You are likely to find that they are happy to pick up a few extra chores in order to free up some of your extra time for studying.
If you are not already using one, a good scheduling tool is critical for time management when going back to school. There are many apps to help you track assignments, exams, and other deadlines while also reminding you of important work and family dates.
Strong Study Habits
In order to make the most of your precious and limited time while returning to school, it is imperative to learn some solid study habits. Study skills such as good note taking, time management, memorization techniques, and making the most of small blocks of time will help you succeed while balancing work, life and school.
Another tip for people with busy families is to set aside a dedicated study area. Make sure other members of your household understand and respect your quiet space. Consider turning off your cell phone and ignoring email while you are in your dedicated study space so that focus will be easier.
Finally, make sure you are taking advantage of your own daily rhythms to choose a time to study each day when your focus is strong. For example, some people prefer getting up early to study before the day’s many obligations and distractions compete for their focus. Others work better in the evening. Being aware of your natural rhythms will help you integrate continuing education into your life by maximizing your productivity while minimizing disruptions.