If you are currently involved in the job search process you may be asking yourself this question. It was also addressed at PayScale.com‘s Google+ Hangout presentation last week. The speakers, a panel including employment recruiters, educators, and research analysts, shared a range of responses relevant to today’s college students and job seekers.
There was a time when a bachelor’s degree was considered the gold standard for employment, job stability, and career achievement. You’d have no problem finding a job if you had achieved this level of education, which not everyone was pursuing. However, we are now experiencing a time when everyone, or almost everyone, is encouraged to go to college, while the job market has changed with more competition for existing positions. The availability of higher education, through a host of blended and online options from for-profit and not-for-profit institutions alike, is expanding. And as graduates find it difficult to get hired in their chosen fields, they are returning to school to pursue certificates and master’s degrees in the hopes that they will be more marketable with these additional credentials.
One of the panel speakers pointed out that if everyone has a bachelor’s degree, it’s no longer a differentiator – a special qualification employers can use to narrow the field of applicants. As employment recruiters review applicant materials in which all present equivalent bachelor’s degrees, they may then choose to look more closely at those who also have an advanced degree or additional relevant training and experience.
The Value of Education
The overarching topic of the PayScale.com presentation was the value of education. Measuring the value of an academic program, as I’ve addressed previously on this blog, is not only difficult to do, but can vary according to the context in which it’s being measured. What is the context in which you are making decisions about educational opportunities?
I recommend extending the panel’s original question: Is a bachelor’s degree enough to _____? Is it enough to reach your goals as they might relate to entering a new field, advancing in your current field, or transitioning to a new one? The answer may differ depending on your career goals and personal motives for pursuing higher education. Consider your short- and long-term goals and the value of a particular program as preparation for the workforce, as well as pursuing an area of interest for learning’s sake.
Finding an Answer
In some cases it is enough to earn a bachelor’s degree, while in others it’s not enough, or even too much depending on the individual student’s goals and the needs of the job market. Online learning isn’t easy, or without costs and challenges, so should you advance to the next level of education? Here are a few guidelines and recommended avenues of research to help you answer the question on an individual basis:
- Follow employment and education trends. Look at the “track record” of people holding the types of jobs you are interested in pursuing. What types of education and training are typical? What are the salaries you could expect? Career path tools, such as PayScale.com’s GigZig, provide possible job titles and salaries as an individual advances through a field, based on real-word input from working professionals.
- Understand job and career requirements. Some jobs absolutely require studies beyond the undergraduate level, while others may consider you “over qualified” with additional education. And in some career fields a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for entry, but a master’s or more will be necessary to advance. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook includes data about training and education. Look for “entry-level” education as a way to search for occupations, as well as a featured section of each occupational profile.
- Set your priorities. Take some time to determine the aspects of employment that are important to you (e.g., salary, location, work schedule, type of work) before enrolling in a new program focused in a specific type of career or work. And examine your finances to determine your budget for new education and training opportunities. Have a clear idea of what you can afford in terms of tuition, as well as future loan repayment (i.e., what monthly amounts will be, what salary you can expect after graduation) to ensure that advancing to the next level of education is a good financial decision for you.
- Experience the field. Before you commit to a new career field, consider options that allow you to gain practical experience and make a more informed decision about moving ahead with additional education. An example given by the PayScale panel was in the nursing field – consider certificate and associate programs (i.e., Certified Nursing Assistant, Associate Degree in Nursing), many of which are now blended with online components, before entering a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program. You may even find employer support for additional education (e.g., tuition assistance) after proving yourself at an entry-level.
As is the case with many issues of higher education, the answer to the question of whether or not a bachelor’s degree will be enough really is, “it depends.” Deciding whether or not to pursue a new degree, online or on-campus, is a decision that should be based on your needs, interests, and the job market. What’s right for you might not be right for another student, and the employment trends in your local area also important to consider. Do your research and make the best decision possible to move you toward your goals with the needs of potential employers in mind.
Have you decided to pursue an advanced degree online? Tell us more about your decision-making process and recommendations for other students who are weighing higher education options.