In many ways, divorce can feel like the ultimate "back to the drawing board" event: back to dating, back to searching for your soulmate, possibly even back to an apartment into which you couldn’t have squeezed your wedding cake. But it may also be a good time to go back to the chalk board.
Yes, I'm talking about going back to school.
Consider this: A report in London's Telegraph newspaper found that while a man's income increases by 11 percent after a divorce, a woman's earning power actually decreases... by a hefty 17 percent.
So while going back to school might at first seem like further regression after the sting of divorce, it can actually be just the antidote you need. Whether you're seeking to boost your earning potential, change careers, or just stick it to your Ex by earning more than he does, it truly pays to be as educated as you can.
But, assuming you already have a college degree, what kind of program should you choose?
These days, the options seem almost limitless. In addition to the old stand-bys (a second bachelor's degree, a masters), there are vocational schools, community colleges, certification programs, and those tech schools that pop up on TV after 2AM, promising you wealth and happiness in only "18 short months" (much faster than 18 long months).
In this, the first of a three-part series on going back to school after a divorce, we'll look at the different options for post-secondary education, focusing on how well each program can prepare you for the job of your dreams:
• A Second Bachelor's Degree
Many people are attracted to the idea of a second bachelor's degree. Assuming credits from your first BA can be transferred, a second bachelor’s could be earned in one to two years.
But as George W. Bush famously attempted to say, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
Don't get me wrong — I can't emphasize the importance of a bachelor's degree enough. But if your first degree didn't cause doors to fly open, it's not necessarily because you chose the wrong major. The truth is that, while a bachelor's degree is crucial to succeeding in the 21st Century job market, there are very few jobs for which a particular major itself qualifies you. Career Counselor Mark Nemko sums it up nicely: the bachelor's degree may provide enlightenment, but it won't give you job skills.
If your ultimate goal is a master's degree, you may think you need a bachelor's in the field you wish to pursue. Chances are you don't. With a few exceptions, your best option is to take some classes in the subject you want to pursue. Many universities now have Continuing Education programs, or better yet, allow you to register as a student-at-large or a non-degree special student. Through these programs, you have greater flexibility to pick and choose classes and can often take them at night so you can keep your day job.
• Master's Degree
"More and more, I find myself advising undergraduate students about how to position themselves to go to graduate school," says Professor Andrew Sobanet of Georgetown University, underscoring that, today, a Master's degree is equivalent to the undergrad degree of ten or twenty years ago.
Many hesitate to pursue a masters, not sure it’s absolutely necessary. Depending on the career, it may not be. A graduate degree, however, will take about the same amount of time as a second bachelor’s degree, and will increase your earning potential.
Further, a master’s degree may qualify you to teach at community colleges, and a master's degree in music or fine arts, along with some professional accomplishments, will qualify you to teach at four-year colleges. Masters degrees in nursing (MSN), and social work (MSW) can lead to professions with strong growth potential. The University of California San Francisco, a first-rate school, offers a three-year masters degree in nursing, MEPN, specifically for people who have a BA in other areas.
• Community College
Community colleges have evolved greatly over the last few decades. Once considered the refuge of troubled teens, many have seen a spike in enrollment, and at least fourteen states have authorized their community colleges to offer four-year degrees in addition to traditional two-year associates degrees. Some experts have begun recommending that high school graduates start at community colleges to satisfy core classes, then transfer to reputable four-year programs only once they've determined their majors (In fact, 6 percent of Harvard transfer students for the class of ’09 came from community colleges.)
• Vocational, Technical, & Trade Schools
The last decade has proved a bumpy ride for Trade Schools, mostly due to reports that some employ questionable tactics. In 2005, 60 Minutes investigated CEC, a for-profit educational company, whose admissions counselors were forced to meet monthly quotas and mislead students about graduation rates and potential earning power — or risk losing their own jobs.
Despite the controversy, it would be a mistake to write off trade schools altogether. As always, a little research can go a long way.The Arts Institutes, for example, have maintained a decent reputation, and have campuses across the nation. And since technical schools focus on careers that are quite, well, technical, they tend to provide state-of-the-art tools and software. Most importantly, however, trade schools provide training that more traditional educations do not for many careers, such as chefs, nurses, 3-D animators, car mechanics, truck drivers, massage therapists, electricians, etc.
• Online Institutes
The Internet has led to some wonderful innovations and breakthroughs. Online education is not among them. That said, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that, in 2006, 41 percent of 101 managers surveyed by Vault, a career information company, said that they would give equal consideration to traditional degrees and online degrees. Online masters’ degrees are more acceptable than online bachelors degrees. (A little reported secret: many elementary school teachers get their masters degrees online, which boosts their pay just as much as a traditional masters degree.)
Ultimately, every career is unique, and it's impossible to prescribe the "correct" educational path to reach your professional goals. While a Master's in Journalism can be the best prescription for getting a good job for a major publication, a Master's in Economics isn't the best path to becoming an Investment Banker (take two finance classes and call Morgan Stanley's intern program in the morning if banking is your goal).
Therefore, use this as a guide, and start doing your own research to find the right program for you. A good place to start is the Vocational Information Center, which details the job descriptions for most major careers, and details what education is necessary to start your career.
In Part 2, I'll discuss tips and steps for you to take to get into the educational program of your choice.