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Can You Really Afford Further Education?

If you’re like the thousands of people who want a career change, you probably dream about going back to school and getting a new degree. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. According to a BBC study in 2012, about one in ten students graduating from UK universities were still unemployed six months after being handed their diplomas. A great deal more were working in sales, customer service, and other non-professional fields that they could have entered without education. It’s good to have goals, but it’s also important to be realistic—so before you sign up for night classes, consider whether it’s truly worth it. You can start by answering a few of these questions.

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How is the job market in your target field?

Studying a field like literature, art, or history may be something you’d love to do, but unfortunately there are few jobs in liberal arts industries and a lot of competition for them. Oaklands College states that the healthcare, finance, technology, engineering, and public administration are some of the UK’s largest and most profitable sectors, so a degree in one of those will have a much higher chance of paying for itself over time. The last thing you need is to pour time, energy, and money into your studies, only to end up exactly where you started.

How are you paying for it?

It’s probably unlikely that you’ll be able to cover your costs out of pocket, especially if you’re currently unemployed or in a less-than-lucrative career. According to The Guardian, the average student debt runs about £39,000, and you may find yourself paying it for the next few decades. Fortunately, the student loan system is based on your ability to pay—once you start earning above £21,000 per year, you pay 9% of the income above that mark. There is interest, but this depends on your salary—low earners will pay less, high earners more. If you end up never making more than £21,000, you’ll never have to pay your loans, so you won’t have to worry about being saddled with that debt and ending up homeless.

What are your goals?

For a career in something like manufacturing, agriculture, or construction, it’s still possible—and practical—to work your way up without going to school. However, there are many jobs that do require degrees. Research the requirements of some positions you’d eventually like to have; if most of them ask for degrees, then it’s probably worth it to pursue that education.

As education becomes more accessible and more common, it’s difficult to argue that it isn’t worth it. According to University Campus St Albans the average university graduate earns roughly £12,000 more a year than their less-educated counterparts; plus, having skills and abilities that people need will serve you well in the future. Ultimately, it all comes down to you, your situation, and your visions. If you want to reach higher, don’t let anything hold you back.

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