Should you go back to school? A lot of adults find themselves pondering that question in the midst of a challenging economy. A shiny new degree could open up a whole new career for you, or open the door to a raise or promotion in your current field. Then again, more schooling could lead you nowhere except deeper in debt. Here are a few things to consider to help you decide whether going back to school is the best option for improving your personal finances.
See how Mint can help you plan your budget to fit more school into your life.
Is there a demand for employment in your field of study?
Whether you're considering furthering your education in your current field or thinking about a career change, it pays to research the job outlook in your chosen field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a good place to start. Their Occupational Outlook Handbook allows you to search your desired occupation to see employment trends over the next ten years so you'll know the likelihood of being able to land the job you want. For example, the OOE predicts that jobs requiring degrees with the biggest demand over the next decade include computer software engineers, registered nurses and accountants.
Will you need to touch your emergency savings?
Hopefully, you've got a substantial emergency fund saved up (if you don't, Mint can help you get right on that). If you're considering breaking into that piggy bank to fund your new degree, personal finance expert Suze Orman says to think again. "School is a choice, not a necessity," she wrote in her column on Oprah.com. Your emergency fund should only be spent on true emergencies -- furthering your education doesn't qualify. And if going back to school will stretch your budget to the point where you need to start tapping your emergency fund to make ends meet, it's probably not worth it.
Will more college place you deeper in debt?
One way to avoid depleting your emergency fund is to take out student loans to fund your degree. But whether the loans are private or federal, you could be shooting your future in the foot if you borrow more than you can pay back relatively quickly. The entire point of returning to college is to ultimately improve your financial life, not make yourself a slave to loan payments. Suze Ormon recommends not borrowing more than you can expect to earn in the first year of work after completing your degree. Regardless, you should fill out the Free Application for Financial Aid so you'll know what you qualify for -- you could be eligible for grants that you don't have to pay back. It's also a good idea to apply for scholarships to the school of your choice.
Crunch the numbers
Once you've answered the above questions, you can do the math to see whether going back to college is worth your while. Plugging the numbers into personal budgeting app like Mint can give you a clear view of the big picture and help you figure out whether or not furthering your education will increase your earning power and improve your finances.
Let Mint help you get ready for more higher education.
Jean Marie Bauhaus is an author who writes on a variety of topics, including personal finance and budgeting.