on your path to career change? Read this article before you write
the tuition check.
Career changers often begin their
transition with a return to school. These days, you have more
choices than ever: online, teleclasses, on-site seminars, and
If you're pursuing a traditional
degree, such as an MBA, you'll see ads and brochures from
schools you've never heard of.
If you're embarking on a new-to-the-world career, such as coaching,
the choices seem even more bewildering.
Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D., who spent many years in the classroom as
both professor and student, suggests some tough questions to
ask before you write your check.
1. Do you really need formal
After ten years of management
experience with a well-regarded Fortune 50 corporation, Alice
developed a training program to help managers retain their best
and brightest employees. Should she return to school for a coaching
Alice needs to learn what her
clients will value when they hire her. Some firms will prefer
an MBA to a coaching certification. Others will be more interested
in dollar savings she can document than in any letters after
her name. Before investing in more education, she needs to dip
a toe into the water through networking and speaking to business
2. Where have all the graduates
Harold's forty-year management
career culminated in a vice presidency of a company that is a
household name. Bursting with energy, Harold decided he wanted
to share his hard-won business wisdom with the next generation.
He would get a Ph.D. degree and teach at a university.
Soon Harold noticed ads for BusyPeople
University, promising flexible classes that were offered
weekends, evenings, and online. Forget the horror stories of
fussy dissertation committees and delayed diplomas: BusyPeople
would see Harold out the door in three well-ordered years --
two if he really hustled.
The tuition was high but Harold
had the money. More important, he valued the flexibility and
believed "you get what you pay for."
Will this degree help you reach your goal?
Three years later, Harold was
turned down for one teaching job after another. Unaccustomed
to rejection, he finally found someone willing to speak frankly.
"We don't take BusyPeople
degrees seriously," said a senior professor at Traditional
U, on condition of anonymity.
"We think BPU is a diploma
mill. Okay," he cut off Harold's protest, "you say
you had to do real work. But you have no idea what students learn
in more tranditional programs. You'll have to try a junior college
or maybe a small religious college.
"Frankly, you would have
been better off to skip graduate school altogether. Many business
schools would have been thrilled to invite you to serve as an
Executive in Residence. This degree actually lowered your value."
Before you sign up for any
program, talk to half
a dozen graduates. The alumni office may be willing to share
names attached to success stories, but don't stop there. Ask
your contacts for names of less successful classmates.
And probe deeply. Zelda interviewed Vincent, a recent
doctoral graduate of BusyPeople University. She was impressed
with his new affiliation -- a very prestigious university. Vincent's
placement seemed to demonstrate that BusyPeople graduates really
could succeed in a competitive job market.
When Zelda called Vincent, she
learned he was telling the truth. He was working
for that prestigious university -- as a lab technician while
hunting for a full-time teaching job.
3. Do you fit the profile
of the successful graduate?
Clarissa enjoyed her job as a
systems analyst but she dreamed of completing an MBA at a
top-tier program. At age thirty-two, she was accepted to
Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and more.
When she graduated at thirty-four,
she discovered that many of the most desirable jobs were closed
to her. The greatest salary and career gains were registered
by those who entered the MBA program at twenty-three, following
two years of experience. Graduating at twenty-five -- twenty-six,
tops -- these young rising stars were in demand.
Clarissa 's post-MBA salary and
title did not compensate for the high MBA tuition and lost income
for two years. She realized she would have done better to enter
an Executive MBA program, where she could make contacts with
her true peers.
When school is not enough
Fresh from a four-year stint
in the US Army, George signed up for an expensive two-year coach
training program. As a drill sergeant he had coached hundreds
of young men and women into leadership positions and he knew
coaching involved a lot more than shouting orders.
George did well in the program
but found he had difficulty attracting clients. He had
no business network and people transitioning from military life
couldn't afford coaching, even if they recognized the concept.
After three years of struggle, George saw his savings vanish.
George realized he would benefit
from taking a civilian job and building his network of contacts.
He also realized that a college degree would have given him more
4. Where did the faculty come
Top universities will not hire
their own graduates as professors. There are exceptions: you
may be hired to teach in a different department or you might
be invited to return in triumph following a successful career
at an equally prestigious institution.
Quality training requires a faculty
that is diverse in experience and education as well as race,
sex and age. If many faculty were trained by the university where
they're teaching, you have to ask tough questions about innovation,
growth and change.
If you are applying for a training
program, such as writing or coaching, learn who designed
If one or two instructors design the program, write the textbook,
and conduct the classes, you are entering an apprenticeship program.
This school may be the perfect route to your dreams but it will
be a single-lane highway with limited turnoffs.
For maximum growth and flexibility,
look for programs that offer textbooks authored by professionals
outside the program. Look for faculty who come from diverse
backgrounds who can generate controversy and debate. Tolerance
of disagreement will allow you to stretch your mind in new and
Bottom Line: Choose your career goal and network
for information. You may be surprised to discover that you can
fill your dream without setting foot in another classroom. You
may learn that some programs actually exclude you from the career
path of your dreams.
We have been taught that school
is a steppingstone to careers and even to riches. That lesson
holds -- if you are the right student and you choose the right
program to meet your goal.
Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D.
Author, Career Consultant, Speaker
*Fast Track to Career Freedom*