There are plenty of options for those who want to return to study after years in the workforce.
Many people are heading back to school as they seek inventive ways to reset their working lives as part of the COVID-19 recovery.
By ‘school’, of course, I mean graduate school, to study a graduate certificate or diploma, a master’s or even a doctoral degree.
The appeal of extra study has been underscored by what can be referred to as a coronavirus cocktail of complicated conditions.
On the one hand, some people returned to study when their employment came to an end, while others signed on to a new higher education qualification to protect or bolster their job security.
And with underemployment soaring because of the pandemic, many turned to study when their work hours were slashed (and they suddenly had time on their hands).
As we recover from the pandemic, the focus of those opting to pursue graduate studies has shifted beyond a precarious job situation.
Some, for example, are planning a career transition from a generalist role to a specialist one. Others are seeking opportunities to climb the ladder, some want to change careers, and another cohort dreams about starting their own business.
There are even those who will pursue higher qualifications because it is on their bucket list. Another group of workers signs up simply to become better at what they currently do.
We are spoiled for choice when it comes to graduate qualifications.
While there are many face-to- face options, the availability of online study has surged.
And while there is much to choose from in the more traditional areas such as information technology, business, accounting, counselling and education, new offerings are emerging all the time.
Newer courses aim to equip participants with the skills to navigate some of the emerging challenges and opportunities of the modern world: cybersecurity, hazards management, data management, and digital leadership.
Despite the enormous variety of courses on offer, even those providers delivering arguably the most popular of all graduate courses – the MBA – are experiencing a surge in demand.
Going back to study is not for the faint-hearted.
Most graduate qualifications are not cheap, and students need to commit the time needed to succeed at their chosen program of study to protect their investment.
Before proceeding with a graduate qualification, it is worth considering a number of important factors.
For example, weigh up the pros and cons of a virtual or online study module compared with a face-to-face version of the same course. If you struggle to focus, then a face-to-face delivery model – with a hard commitment to attend classes at regular intervals – might suit you better.
If you opt for the face-to- face version, be clear on the approximate number of hours you will have to invest outside class, too, because some courses have demanding assessment protocols.
Consider also the study load you intend to carry.
If you are working full time and enrol to study part time, one unit per study period is usually a sufficient undertaking (though some students can manage more).
Regardless of whether you opt to study online or face to face, it is important to discuss the time commitment with partners or family to gauge – and hopefully garner – their support.
Think through the best type of qualification for you.
If you are interested in topping up your knowledge and skills, then a graduate certificate is a great starting point. Those qualifications are often nested within graduate diplomas and master’s degrees to provide a direct pathway to a series of related qualifications.
If you want to solve a professional problem through applied research, then perhaps a professional doctorate is for you. Or if making a valuable contribution to theory is your passion, then a PhD might be what you are looking for.
And while the expense of studying some qualifications can be a major barrier, it is possible to access HECS-HELP or, more likely FEE-HELP, depending on how the graduate offering is subsidised by the federal government.
On top of that, it pays to shop around, because fees for courses vary enormously from provider to provider; and some employers might be willing to pay for an employee’s participation in graduate qualification, or at least fund part of it.
There are numerous benefits that come with obtaining a graduate qualification.
Apart from the obvious benefits such as the satisfaction that comes from learning and perhaps a pay rise down the track, many find they expand their networks of friends and professional contacts throughout the course of their study.
And it is becoming increasingly clear that having a graduate qualification under your belt will help when it comes to securing a senior role in a corporate, not-for-profit or government role. Even if the qualification itself will not get you the job, it will certainly make you more competitive.
Employers usually view graduate study as a sign of an individual’s drive and discipline.
So, while a promotion may not be instant, it might happen down the track (unless your study is in an area unrelated to your job). In that case, you might be considered a flight risk and overlooked for a promotion.
If you are contemplating a graduate course, you will be beginning your studies at a time when the whole sphere of graduate education is undergoing a transformation.
No longer is the ‘sage on the stage’ set-up the dominant model of teaching, with those studying graduate courses instead engaged in interactive projects and activities that make use of exciting digital innovations.
Micro-credentialling is also emerging, with course content broken up into bite sizes to make the completion of a particular course more manageable.
The bottom line is that, despite the intensity and often hefty price tags that go with completing a graduate qualification, the majority of those who attempt and complete a course find the experience personally stimulating and professionally rewarding.
If you are one of the thousands heading back to school this year, make sure you follow the advice of your former teachers who always told you to do your homework.