Careers

Should you go back to school

The Stanford Graduate School of Business in Palo Alto, California.
Tony Avelar | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Stanford Graduate School of Business in Palo Alto, California.

Most people don't make the decision to go back to school lightly. It's a big deal. In the long term, going back to school could do wonders for your career. But, in the short term, it can complicate your life in a big way.

It's one thing to go to college, or even graduate school, it your 20s — it's quite another to do it while working a full-time job and/or raising a family. So, if you're trying to decide whether or not to make the commitment to working toward another degree, here are a few ideas to keep in mind. Hopefully, more information can help you make the choice that's right for you.

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1. In the end, more education usually pays off

There is some debate about whether or not college is really worth the cost. And, of course it pays to do your research. Use PayScale's College ROI Report and College Salary Report to research the schools you're considering in advance. Also, be comforted. As long as you're making a wise choice in terms of selecting a reputable school with a good ROI, it's likely that the investment of time, money and energy will be worth it in the end.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that from high school through to a doctoral degree, earnings go up with each successive step. The median weekly earnings for someone with a high school diploma is $678, but $1,137 for someone with a bachelor's degree. Additionally, the unemployment rate goes down for individuals at every step of educational attainment. The unemployment rate is 5.4 percent for those with just a high school diploma. But, it's 2.8 percent for those with a bachelor's degree, and just 2.4 percent for people with a master's degree.

2. It can jump-start a big career change

There are a lot of reasons to consider going back to school. Some folks do it just to enrich their lives. However, most adults go back to school because they're unhappy with their current professional situation and they'd like to make a change. Earning your bachelor's degree, or an advanced degree, could help you get there. It might mean you can advance in your field where you'd hit a ceiling without more education. Or, it could set you up for a whole new career altogether. The bottom line is that, if you are unhappy with your current work situation, going back to school is one of the best ways to make a big change.

3. This is a great time for some personal reflection

You'll want to do some real soul-searching if you're considering a big time and financial investment like going back to school. Be honest with yourself about what you want, first of all. Once that's out of the way, be real about how tough it will be. Consider the challenges and obstacles you're likely to face, and do a little bit of strategic planning regarding how you're going to meet them. It might also be a good idea to double-check your whole thought process regarding the desire to go back to school. Is this really what you need and want in order to be happier or more successful?

4. Consider alternatives, like online learning options

There are so many learning options to consider these days, whether you're hoping to work toward an undergraduate degree or a master's. A lot of folks find that online learning opportunities work best for them when also juggling other responsibilities alongside their schooling. There are many advantages to pursuing an online learning path. (But there are drawbacks, too.) Do your homework and decide what's best for you.

5. Speak with your employer, if appropriate

It might be a good idea to speak with your employer about your goals before making your final decision. They can give you some direction about how to align your program with your professional objectives. Plus, many companies offer tuition assistance or reimbursement. If so, your manager will be able to connect you with these opportunities.

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This article originally appeared on PayScale.