Q Several years ago, I quit college because I got a good full-time job. Now I wish I hadn't because I think my lack of degree is holding me back. What should my next steps be?
A: Decide what you'd like to gain from continuing your education; this will help determine your next steps.
First of all, if you're coming down on yourself for leaving college, let it go. It may have been the right decision then; personal needs evolve, so it's time to move forward.
Then focus on what you're hoping to gain. It sounds as if your interest is based on gaining a professional credential. Does this mean becoming better qualified for your existing role or a progression upon it, or does it mean having the credentials to move into a different line of work? And are your expectations for what a degree will yield realistic?
Consider, too, your intellectual interests. The sweet spot would be the intersection between credential and passion — does the degree you're considering meet this test? If not, take some time to consider what you'd study if practicality didn't play a part. Then see if there is a way to bring those together.
Once you've determined that a degree will, indeed, provide the career advancement you seek, where, when and how become some of the questions to focus on.
Start with the school that you attended in the past, and determine whether it's a good fit. It can be easier to transfer credits, etc. Even if you choose not to go back there, they may have services to help you.
If you choose a different school based on program content or location, investigate admissions requirements, examine the program in-depth, and ask them to review your past course work to determine how much will apply. This can have major cost and time implications, so it's worth the attention. Also, don't pin your hopes on one school — identify a short list to pursue.
Next: When will you go? Do you envision an evening and weekend program? Or, do you have the flexibility to do a more traditional program? Either way, make sure you plan enough time for studying, while not neglecting family, friends or your health.
Finally, think about how to pay for it. Some companies offer tuition assistance, so check this out with your employer. Explore grants and, if you need to, student loans. Again, your past or prospective schools will have resources to help you through this.
Build in personal support, too, both at home and at work. You're taking on a major challenge, so you'll need support. Going back to school can be rewarding, but it pays to plan carefully to ensure success.
Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.