Should You Go Back to School?


Am I Choosing the Right Degree to Further My Health Career Goals?

Students in a lecture hall.
Should you go back to school?. Getty Images

Choosing the right degree is especially important in the healthcare industry. Many healthcare jobs require specific degrees with clinical or healthcare-specific knowledge and practical rotations too.

Daren Upham, vice president of enrollment at Western Governors University, a non-profit, primarily online college program, provides this list of several questions to consider before going back to school. These questions may help you decide which school and degree are best for you, and if you should even go back to school at all.  

You first need to confirm that the degree you earn will help you meet your career objectives. If you are already working in your chosen field within the healthcare industry, this should be easy. For example, if you are already a nurse, a master’s degree in nursing is a logical choice. If you are considering a bachelor’s degree with the goal of moving into a better, higher-paying job or a different field, it is important to choose a degree that employers will recognize as relevant. For example, a degree in business or information technology may be more useful in becoming a healthcare executive than one in general studies or liberal arts.​​​

"Advances in patient care and a growing, aging population in need of healthcare have presented a fantastic opportunity for competent, compassionate healthcare professionals. WGU’s online health degree programs are specifically designed for working adults seeking upward mobility."


How Will I Learn? What Type of Instruction Does the Program Offer?

Will you complete an online program or attend classes on campus in person? Some degrees, like a medical degree needed to become a physician, are of course not available online, due to the nature of the work. However, as technology advances, more and more degrees, even some with clinical applications, are available in whole or in part via online education.

Most online universities use technology to distribute traditional classroom education—classes that are led by a professor or instructor with a fixed schedule and syllabus. While the classes are usually scheduled to accommodate working adults, you’ll move through the course at a set pace. You may want to consider a competency-based approach to learning, which will allow you to move at your own pace and advance when you demonstrate your mastery of subject matter.


What Kind of Help and Support Will I Have?

Regardless of what type of program you attend, returning to school can be stressful and add a lot of pressure to your existing responsibilities. Are you prepared to manage your coursework on top of your existing obligations for work and family? 

For many students, going to college online, without the interaction provided by an on-campus experience, can be a daunting prospect. Be sure to ask how you will interact with the faculty and what kind of support is available.


How Much Will It Cost?

Tuition cost can often be the greatest stumbling block for many would-be students. While there are a variety of loans and grants available, it can be challenging to graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Tuition varies widely across different schools, even for the same degree program. By choosing widely and comparing costs, there are ways you can save money on tuition and keep the costs to a minimum. Some online programs, for example, are approximately the same cost as a public university, while others may be more than twice as much. Higher cost does not necessarily mean higher quality at an online college, so be sure to understand all of the costs—tuition, books, and fees—before you make your decision. Another factor in your cost consideration should be the length of time you expect to take to complete your degree—the longer it takes, the more it is likely to cost.​​


How Will I Pay for My Degree Program?

Depending on your income, you may be eligible for a government grant, particularly a Pell grant, to help pay for your education. A federal student loan may also be an option, but take care not to borrow more than you need or incur too much debt. If you expect to use financial aid, be sure to find out whether the school you’re considering is eligible.


Will My New Degree Prepare Me for Career Advancement?

Make sure that the degree program you choose offers relevant and up-to-date curriculum to ensure that when you graduate, you’ll have the real-world skills employers need.


Is the University Accredited?

Completing an accredited degree program is paramount. Be sure you are enrolling in a recognized program that will allow you to get the certifications and license you need to practice the health career you are working towards.

The U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of nationally-recognized accrediting agencies that the Department has determined to be reliable authorities. Accreditation is a must-have to ensure that employers and other academic institutions will respect and recognize your degree.


Will My Degree Be Respected by Employers?

If you want your degree to count, and to get the greatest return on your tuition investment, make sure to answer this question before you choose your school. Ask for information about alumni placements, employer surveys, and graduate rankings on national test scores.


What Is the College or University's Background and Ownership?

Make sure you understand whether the school is part of a privately or publicly held company or a nonprofit institution. This may not be the factor that governs your choice, but it is important to know all you can about the university you select. Many for-profit institutions offer quality programs, but they may charge more or dedicate more resources to marketing and recruitment than a nonprofit university, making tuition costs higher.


Will I Connect With Other Students?

Another side benefit of returning to school is the professional networking aspect. Even in an online program, you may be able to connect with other successful healthcare professionals who may serve as a mentor or a colleague to help bounce ideas off of. ​

Interacting with other students can enrich your learning experience and help you feel connected. Online universities are developing a number of ways for students to connect through chat rooms, webinars, and social media—it is important to find out what the school is doing to engage and connect with students.

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