Going back to school: Investing in your career and yourself

More than ever, additional education can help you boost your earning potential, enhance your career, and ensure a more comfortable retirement. Here’s how to make the most of your investment.

Considering going back to school, but want to make the most of your investment? Selecting the right degree or certificate program can significantly boost your earning power to reach long-term financial goals. And schools today are competing for non-traditional students by offering evening and online courses, making it easier than ever to pursue a new degree.

Do your homework.

Most positions beyond entry level now require a Bachelor's degree. "But in many cases, they don't care what it's in, as long as you have experience in the job area," says Kevin Burns, director of the undergraduate business career center at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University in Tempe.

What if you already have a Bachelor's degree? In that case, look for a program that will boost the skills you'll need to further develop your career.

Brooke Walker, a 32-year-old mother of two in Mesa, AZ, recently completed an online degree in psychology. She has already received a raise at the law firm where she works and says she's learning new skills that will continue to help her on the job. "I'm very happy with where I am," she says.

Crunch the numbers.

Ask your organization if it offers tuition reimbursement. If not, consider applying for loans and scholarships for non-traditional students or, if possible, pay as you go. Walker paid for her degree by waitressing and taking out student loans. Take on no more debt than the salary you anticipate you'll earn at the next level of your career, Burns recommends.

Get more out of the experience.

Talk to people who are already in your desired position to learn about the credentials required and the prospects for career development. Burns suggests conducting at least 10 informational interviews before you enroll in a new program. Read trade publications and join professional groups to build your knowledge base.

Your earning power can be your greatest financial asset. Increase it, and you may be able to save more for retirement, stretching out the benefits over your lifetime.

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