Monday, February 9, 2009

Why Do A Second (or Third) Degree?

This article really raises some valid points about continuing education.

I do have two degrees. The second one took me from "vaguely employable" to "hot prospect." So, I've had a more or less positive experience with extensive post-secondary ed. A third degree remains an option at a later point, but would be purely for personal and professional development rather than the credential value.

The article is really good - any port in a storm is not a great philosophy when deciding on education. I'd like to add some considerations to the debate.

Benefits to A Second Degree:

(1) Networking. Both peer and industry. If you are someone who is able to build relationships with others, a second degree can put you in the position to become close with people who can give you access to opportunities. This may have been the major advantage of my second degree. However, most of my classmates didn't see the same opportunities or value-added aspects.

(2) Quality of Life Improvement. I learned things indirectly about how the world works, how to get information, and how to make people do what I need done. If you grew up in an upper class family, less useful. If you come from a middle class or lower class family, potentially life altering.

(3) A career relatively insulated from future downturns. When everything crashed, my boyfriend and I (different second degrees) looked at each other with relief that we didn't just take Super Well Paying HR Job With Oil Company X. You may not make as much during the booms but you survive the busts better in certain traditional career paths. Some of the article's criticisms are very true for the American system which does not control it's professional entry levels as rigorously.

Things to Consider:

(1) Do you have access to funding? The majority of my post-secondary education was scholarship funded. I chose a lower-cost (less prestigious) school because I knew I could be a bigger fish in a smaller pond - more opportunities (see "Networking" above) and funding were available. However, I would not have gone into a program with less esteem than my Alma mater - a fine balance.

(2) Are you interested in what you're taking? Lack of interest is related to poor performance which can translate into a poor investment. If you absolutely hated your undergraduate education it is entirely likely you will not enjoy your second degree, and vice versa.

(3) Are you willing to do what it takes to be in the top 25%? Unlike your undergrad, you may be faced with a harsh reality of no longer being a star player. Admission itself may not actually be worth much. The top 25% from my class universally have excellent employment prospects, downturn or not. We were the top from our first semester and took up a substantial number of the entrance scholarships. A harsh reality for incoming students, but worth considering.

(4) Are you putting a budding career or financial path on hold, potentially in reverse, to take this opportunity? One of my friends in my program was more than a decade older than me and had a successful film industry career. He knew he was giving up key income earning years to pursue this career change and his job prospects were limited to those that would replenish the missing income years and savings depletion required to support yourself without income. It's more than the degree sticker price.

(5) If you are unemployed, are you realistic about what led you there and if a new 'credential' is going to change your situation? Many are unemployed but many people remain employed. Without at all condemning those at the behest of layoffs, think seriously about whether you will be able to make gains with more paper. Success is mutifaceted. You may need additional things to even make the piece of paper worthwhile. You may be able to get what you need without the paper at all. Despite taking advantage of a great deal of post-secondary ed, I steered my younger brother towards a community college degree that has allowed him to get into the work force earlier. He's killing it and just got a raise that puts him in my wage bracket, he may even have more offers than I do. Different strokes, right?

My current situation is a combination of the following: luck, volunteering/community involvement, taking jobs for less cash to gain experience, building a solid network, seeking out opportunities that set my CV apart, and working. Hard. I have a list of things I want to do in the future to further craft my career that have nothing to do with more school.

If you believe that post-secondary education is the only way of advancing your career, you are not in any condition to be attempting to use post-secondary education to advance your career.

In regards to the assertion about PhDs, I was warned off one by several early-thirties PhDs who were my friends. After a decade of student poverty, they were faced with a demand to Publish or Perish and a further tenure competition. The rewards did not in any way compensate for investment - unless you really love your field, stay away!

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