The best part of being an adult is no longer having to brave the back-to-school blues. No more school supply shopping, no more pressure to come in rocking the best outfit, no more first-day nerves to overcome.
But what if going back to school could give you the push you need to hit that next level, improve your position in the workplace and even attain that much-coveted raise?
After two years of COVID-induced uncertainty, and with back-to-school season on our minds, here’s why now may be the time to take that course you’ve always dreamed of, up-level your degree or even start thinking about dipping your toe back in the waters of formal education.
Dean Gary Hepburn with The Chang School of Continuing Education at Toronto Metropolitan University tells us why up-skilling your marketable talents, making new connections and learning for life outside the classroom could be the best way to grow your career, boost your confidence and, yes, even get that raise.
Here are 10 reasons why more school could be the next best step for you to make all your work goals come true.
1. You can grow your existing skills — even in a cold market
With some economists predicting a recession in Canada, now more than ever, it’s time to get ready and stay ready for the challenges of layoffs and becoming obsolete by sharpening the skills you already have.
“It’s not always a hot job market,” says Hepburn. “Instead of just being opportunistic and taking advantage of job markets when things are really good, it is worth it to do that investment.”
This means honing your skills in the off time. While knowing what career paths may be lucrative in the moment, Hepburn says it’s worth building up your skills for a rainy day (or a market dip).
“I think those who are continuing to develop the best of themselves, they’re going to fare better when things are bad and then they’ll do really well when things are good.”
2. Network, network, network
What better way to make new connections than to go back to class? With better-developed social skills from professional interactions at work, adults have networking abilities that younger learners don’t. Take this as a chance to work on your “soft” interpersonal skills. This could give you the push you need to strengthen and diversify your network. You’ll have a strong team in your corner inside and outside of the classroom.
With better-developed social skills from professional interactions at work, adults have networking abilities that younger learners don’t.
“Often it seems like a big risk, but what you’re going to see when you do it is a lot of people in the same situation,” says Hepburn. “These become some of your most valuable contacts over time. As much as it seems like taking a leap, what we find when people do it: it’s really not that hard and the value that get for it is considerable.”
3. Become an expert multitasker
As grown-ups, when we go back to school, most of us have built entire lives that we have to navigate around when we choose to re-enter the classroom. Family obligations, current 9-to-5s, spouses, mortgage payments — it can all feel overwhelming.
Building school into your schedule will help you better manage your time (you’ll have to, if you’re aiming for straight As!). Work-life balance is now the top motivator for Canadian workers, with one third saying this factor outweighs even a high salary. Ensuring you strike the right balance of work vs. fun will require forethought, planning and a bit of give and take.
Busy adults have no time to procrastinate, so being back at school will force you to better manage your time.
4. It’s a major confidence booster
“It’s difficult to come back when you’ve been out of university for years,” says Hepburn. “Most of our learners are between 20 and 35, but most of them have had a break.”
Adults often worry about whether they can keep up with a school workload, but Hepburn says it’s usually a quick adjustment period since adults who return to school are more eager to be in class and have the drive to push themselves harder to engage with course material.
“Most adults who are worried about that fall in very quickly and adapt to it. They get that confidence back.”
Those who rise to the challenge often see positive results that drive not only career breakthroughs, but also a sense of personal empowerment.
5. You can learn (and teach others) from experience
You’ll probably have a way better story to share during the first-day-back icebreaker game than your younger counterparts. With age comes experience and many learners in their 20s, 30s and beyond have already had previous careers and life adventures that have shaped who they are personally and professionally.
Your lived experience can be one of your greatest assets to how you learn in the classroom and inform others.
“Adults, in a way, are much more challenging to teach, but they’re also very interesting. They bring a breadth of experience into the classroom,” says Hepburn.
A return to your studies will give you the platform to use your life experiences and circumstances to bring nuance to class discussions and context to your learning journey.
6. You’ll get your money’s worth
Part of your educational journey can mean building and increasing your personal brand by developing the newest skills on the market.
If you take the time to learn an in-demand skill that ticks one of your employer’s boxes, you’ll have leverage to ask for more money. According to Forbes, over half of U.S. states have more open jobs than qualified workers, and Canada has a similar talent gap, when it comes to an increasingly tech-based economy.
Being one of few with a desired skill or certification will give you more credibility when it comes to advocating for your desired pay.
7. Get a tech reboot
In a digital space, the ever-shifting landscape of useful technologies can be hard to keep up with. What once seemed like the forefront of a burgeoning industry can feel obsolete within weeks to months. When you go back to school, you’ll get a refresher course on what’s current and be better able to keep up; with industry-standard technologies within your given field.
“Technology-focused up-skilling is just keeping up with changes that are happening externally.”
Hepburn notes that it’s not only learners who struggle to keep up with evolving technology, but businesses as well. By working with the most current industry-standard technologies in popular fields like data science, media or marketing, you can bolster your resume — giving you a workable tech toolkit and skills that employers are looking for.
8. Layer your skills
So maybe your undergraduate degree didn’t quite land you exactly where you hoped in your career.
“One of our big areas is business management,” says Hepburn. “There may be people that worked in an area and want to go into their own business. Perhaps in university, they took an arts degree but they have to know more business-specific skills. We find it really does help them stand out to continue with their education.”
Learning a hard skill like accounting can help add a practicality to a degree in arts or outside of the major STEM fields. Learning how to balance your own books could take a passion into your own entrepreneurial venture or help you make your practice far more lucrative.
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9. Learn the things you really want to
Grade school and even university students are often given a curriculum to learn with less opportunity to give their own feedback. But returning learners in their 20s or 30s are better at speaking up about what they want to learn.
Mature learners have the ability to self-advocate in a way that young students may struggle with.
“When adults choose to come back, they behave more like consumers,” says Hepburn. “If they’re getting information and they don’t feel it’s relevant or contextual in terms of the course or their interests, they’re much quicker to say so.”
Mature learners have the ability to self-advocate in a way that young students may struggle with. You can use this to get the info you really want out of your course of study, rather than being weighed down by the things that don’t benefit your learning.
10. You’ll become a learner for life
Another stint in school could be the push you need to help facilitate learning in other areas of your life.
Where continuing education generally focuses on a traditional classroom environment, lifelong learning is a holistic approach to viewing your life as a constant self-led learning experience with the goal being overall personal development.
Think of school-based learning as a baby step on the path to becoming a lifelong learner.
“One of the best ways to invest in yourself is education. Having that kind of mindset that you’re never really going to be out of school I think is probably the valuable thing,” says Hepburn.
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