When people consider ways to get a better job or a boost in salary, one of the things they think about is whether they should go back to school.
That decision becomes more difficult as the average cost of student loan debt hits more than $29,000 and some jobs don’t offer better paychecks with more education.
PayScale, which collects information on salaries, finds that those in finance, computer science or economics may see a salary increase if they have a master’s degree but not those in history, English or art, lead economist Katie Bardaro says.
Those in a pickle because their professions demand a master’s degree but don’t see it translate into better pay are those in psychology, social work and education, she said.
To further complicate the situation, Payscale finds that while thousands of schools offer a master’s in business administration, only about 50 name-brand universities’ degrees can lead to better pay, thanks to better networking connections and more opportunities, she says.
The same holds true for those who get their law degree: Only about 50 law schools give graduates the kind of prestige they need to command higher paychecks, Bardaro says.
Well-paying jobs that will be in great demand are in science, technology, engineering and math, she says. A master’s degree in those fields will make you more marketable.
Still, if you decide you don’t want to go back to school because of the cost — or other reasons — you still can increase your marketability through self-directed learning.
Kio Stark, author of “Don’t Go Back to School,” says she was inspired to write her book after listening to people talk about going back to school to learn something she knew they could learn on their own. In her book, she interviews 100 people who successfully taught themselves skills that they’ve used to start their own businesses or break into an industry.
“I wanted people to realize there are options for learning,” Stark says.
Stark doesn’t dismiss traditional education and even teaches at New York University. But she says people need to be aware that they may not receive what they need in a traditional classroom or online study programs.
She’s heard many complaints about poor teachers, boring classes and a focus on test scores instead of “rewarding curiosity.”
She knows one man who was interested in philosophy. Rather than attend graduate school, she says he started a podcast interviewing academics in philosophy, providing himself an education from some great teachers whom he might not otherwise have been able to meet.
In some situations, employers are willing to overlook certain education requirements if you can show that you are knowledgeable in an area, Stark says.
Still, she stresses that “independent learning is not something people do well” and advises those who want to get into a self-directed education make sure they have others with them on their journey — people she calls “fellow learners.” She also advises setting up a structured learning program, such as using online learning materials or establishing a specific project you will complete.
“This is not an easy thing to do because you’re making a lot of it up on your own,” she says. “It’s a difficult undertaking and takes initiative.”
But it’s that initiative that can serve you well.
“All of our jobs and professions are changing really fast, and taking the initiative to learn something on your own really demonstrates that you’re able to learn on the job,” Stark says. “I think that is really an important skill to have and is critical for your career.”
Anita Bruzzese is author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy ... and How to Avoid Them,” www.45things.com.