old-student.jpg“They don’t put you in a class with people your age Mommy?” my daughter asked me when I returned from a local University on Saturday. I was there to take a practice test for a graduate school exam and it was worse than any nightmare I envisioned.

Everyone was twenty-minus in the classroom; the seats were horribly uncomfortable; the bubbles on the test grid were way smaller than I remembered; and the test questions made my head hurt. They were like those horrific questions you got in math class that some masochistic test editor came up with to toy with the world. “You have four pilots and four copilots, and four planes take off in a certain order, but we’re not going to tell you the order or which pilot goes with which copilot, but you’re still going to have to figure out the pairing and when they take off….”

Ugh!

It’s been years since I’ve taken a test of any kind, other than medical tests, and it was quite a rude awakening. Yes, CareerDiva is pondering going back to school. I say pondering because this past weekend’s experience has me rethinking my I-need-a-graduate-school-degree decision. Well, in all honesty, I still want to go but I now realize it ain’t gonna be easy.

I’m sharing my story, and will include updates on my education journey from time to time in this blog, because it’s a great reality check for you guys and for me. Here I am reporting on the job market, and the many ways to find a job and further a career; and suddenly I get to see how some of this works first hand.

Clearly more and more thirty-plus folks are looking to head back to the classroom. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that enrollment in all degree-granting institutions for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers is at record levels, projected to hit 3.35 million in 2017, up nearly one million from the 1990s.

Many of you have asked me if you should go back to school, either because you’ve lost a job and realize you need to reinvent yourself, or you just want to add credentials to your resume. But I would never tell anyone to go or not go, no matter what level of education they were seeking, because you have to make that decision for yourself. Why? Because it’s damn difficult and damn expensive. Yes, I can say that with a tiny bit more insight now.

Getting any degree is no guarantee of career success. I wrote about the rush by many to get MBAs, but often such pursuits don’t pay off.

Even though tough economic times are usually thought of as a great time to go back and get some more education, plopping down big bucks on an MBA doesn’t mean doors will automatically open.

“Colleges seem to churn out MBAs like tissue paper,” says Joanna Smith Bers, managing director and talent officer for New York-based DB Marketing Technologies. “There may have been a time when those three letters actually distinguished job candidates from the pack, but no more. As a senior manager at a business insights management consulting firm, I have found that the MBA is more embellishment than substantive.”

While there are still some jobs, particularly in the financial sector, where an MBA is usually a must, recruiters and hiring managers say they’re looking for applicants with real-world experience who have have actually run something.

So, “what’s the ultimate goal?” That’s what so many career experts always ask when I ask them about whether my readers should return to school. That goal is different for different people. For me, it’s pretty simple: I want to learn more and I want to give myself a leg up in the future as my career evolves.

Will I make it past the graduate school prep program I start later this month? (Will they let me bring my lumbar support?) Will I ever get into a good school; and more importantly, will my husband and I be able to afford it, especially with two young kids who’ll need some money for their own schooling within the next decade? And in the end, will the slog be worth it?

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