Can you afford to go back to school?

The pandemic has encouraged many people to rethink their career plans and explore options with the potential for a more rewarding future.

But heading back to school whether it’s for a professional qualification or a university programme represents a big financial commitment, so it’s important to make an informed choice, particularly in the current environment of rising prices.

Full or Part-Time Study

Full time programmes offer the fastest route to qualification but for most students foregoing regular income while studying is too big a step, especially if you’ve got a mortgage, rent or family commitments.

Part-time programmes that enable students to combine studying with current jobs typically offers the most cost-effective route to requalification.

Factor in time as well as money when considering the costs of education. Whatever the financial cost of your studies, it won’t pay you back before graduation. Enrolling but not graduating because you don’t have enough time to study is the worst possible investment.

Check Success Rates

Ask potential schools about their graduation rates and track record of securing employment outcomes for their students. This is the acid test of whether your investment will deliver results.

Good schools will be able to provide the numbers and success stories to demonstrate their ability to help drive your career forward, and thus demonstrate that they’re able to provide value for money.

Look at your Budget

Taking a professional qualification programme to equip you for a career change is going to require financial as well as time commitment.

There are free and low-cost options but like most things in life you get what you pay for, and it’s no coincidence that the best schools are able to command larger tuition fees.

Take a close look at your commitments and regular expenses, for most people there’s some wriggle room when required.

A regular coffee stop on the way into the office may seem low cost on an individual basis but soon adds up over time, as do things like newspaper, magazine and TV subscriptions.

If you’re stuck for ideas, head to consumer site Which! For 50 ideas to help stretch your budget further and liberate an average of £100 per month towards your future career.

How to Pay

Most educational institutions will ask for tuition fees upon enrolment for the full programme, or at least the first-year for longer engagements, but it may not be necessary to save the full amount before enrolling.

Additional ways to make studying affordable include finance from your school or sponsorship from your employer.

Many schools will offer finance over several months to support students with budgeting. For example, students at Opportunities Workshop and Pitman Training have the option of payment plans over 24 months to maximise affordability. This means that students can typically finance their diploma programmes for under £5 per day.

Public universities offer tuition fees repayment linked to earnings, which can defer the immediate cost but has the potential to leave students with large costs for many years after completion of their studies and a much larger overall cost than anticipated due to the impact of compound interested charges over time.

Employer sponsorship can be an effective route for students to develop their skills and qualifications. Some employers offer structured programmes, such as Amazon’s Career Choice programme, which sponsors 95% of tuition fees for employees with more than 12 months service.

Many others provide tuition fees sponsorship in combination with retention incentives to ensure their support is reciprocated over time.

Pick the right subject

Whatever the investment level, clarity on the expected outcome is key.  Choosing subjects with strong hiring potential and earnings uplift compared to your current remuneration is key.

Subjects such as Data Analytics, Software Engineering and Digital Marketing that regularly top surveys of employer demand and future growth, typically provide the strongest returns. But students need to be honest with themselves about the demands of this type of work and whether they’ll thrive in this work environment before enrolling.

In areas such as business administration where job roles are changing quickly due to new technologies, students can gain advantage by ensuring their IT skills are in top condition and by acquiring specialist skills such as the Medical Secretary and Legal Secretary programmes delivered at Pitman Training.

Indecision Costs

If you’re considering going back to school, there’s a reasonable chance that you’re dissatisfied with the standard of living your current career is providing.

While there’s a cost to investing in your future, and maybe some economies that will need to be made in the short-term, the largest cost of all is indecision.

Every month you remain on your current salary, the lower your career earnings will be and the further away the expected benefits from investing in your future.

Backing yourself to be successful is an important part of the cost benefit analysis. Choosing to make a positive decision rather than procrastinating maybe the biggest single step to maximising the benefit from your investment in yourself.