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Next Stop: Traditional Education or Certification Courses?

Next Stop: Traditional Education or Certification Courses?

"So, you're just gonna leave the job you've worked so hard to get all these years? The job with benefits and the decent pay that everyone is envious of?" This was the devastating cry I heard from my mother at the other end of the phone when I told her I was planning on quitting my job. I'd worked ceaselessly for nearly ten years to become a production manager at one of the most prestigious entertainment companies in the country, but after a three-year uphill battle, I was ready to give it all up and move on to greener pastures.

I’d worked several months of twelve to sixteen hour days, and often worked up to six hours per day on weekends to keep up with the tight deadlines that inherently came with my demanding job. And after several years of constant stress and anxiety, being short-staffed, and of waking up at 2 A.M. with my heart pounding, I was burnt out and frustrated. I’d been thinking of moving into a new career for some time, but I had no idea how to make myself competitive in today’s evolving job market, and I certainly didn’t know what the best way to gain experience in a new job market was.


Unfortunately, my situation was not unusual. According to a study by the University of Phoenix School of Business, 59% of working adults in their 30’s and 65% of working adults in their 20’s are considering career changes, and their reasons for doing so are all relatively similar. Lack of advancement opportunities, boredom in their current role or industry, burn out, and dissatisfaction with their current salary were all cited as reasons for wanting to change careers. 

However, despite being unhappy with their current work situation, many adults found it difficult to actually take the plunge and make a career change, and with good reason. Changing careers is challenging. It requires significant job market research, financial and personal planning, and typically requires additional work or educational experience before being able to make the switch successfully. 

So, once you’ve decided that changing your career is the right move, how do you gain the experience needed to move into a new field? And is it better to take certification courses to make you a more valuable candidate, or does your new career path require that you go the route of traditional education?           

When to consider Certification Courses

One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that changing careers means that they need to completely change industries, but before you throw all of your previous work experience away, you should consider taking certification courses that will allow you to transition into a new role within your current industry, or that make you more competitive within your current field. 

Certification courses

Some of the best reasons for considering certification courses are:

  • Moving into your new area of interest does not require that you go back to college 

  • You want to learn a new skill, improve your current skillset, or become an expert in a certain subject matter 

  • You want to make yourself stand out for job opportunities in a competitive market 

  • You want to move into a career or field that’s more interesting to you 

  • You want to work with certain clients or on certain projects you’re not currently qualified for 

  • You want to increase your earning potential 

  • You want to further your current career instead of finding a new one

Pursuing a certificate may not always be an easy process, but it’s one that you can often do on your own time. Some other benefits of obtaining a certificate are: 

  • The cost is usually much less than what you’d pay for the same education from a traditional education program 

  • Your resume will stand out from those with a similar education and work background 

  • It shows that you have discipline and are willing to go the extra mile 

  • It shows a willingness to stay relevant in a complex world 

  • Many certificate programs also count as continuing education credits 

Some considerations when pursuing a certificate:

  • There are often pre-requisites for pursuing high-level certificates 

    • As an example, Project Management Professional (PMP) certificates often require several years of work experience and thousands of hours of leadership experience before you can obtain the certificate 

  • It’s beneficial to shop around and see which certificate meets your personal needs, as well as your budget. Some programs are more expensive than others. 

  • Even certificate programs have academic reputations, and this should be taken into consideration 

  • Whether or not that certificate will lead to your desired career outcome or not

All in all, pursuing a certificate is an excellent way to improve your current career if you’re feeling stagnant and are in need of change, or for switching into a new career or role within the same or a similar industry.

When to consider Traditional Education

Deciding to go back to college isn’t easy, and the choice shouldn’t be made lightly. Traditional education is time-consuming and often very expensive, and usually isn’t the right choice for everyone.

Traditional education

However, there are a few good reasons for going the route of traditional education:

  • You want to switch fields completely and require a new or advanced degree to do so 

  • Your dream job requires that you have an advanced degree (or a degree, if you don’t have one already) 

  • Your employer is willing to pay for your education 

  • You have the ability to pay for your education yourself or leave college with minimal amounts of student loan debt 

If none of the reasons above resonate with you, it would be beneficial to take a good, hard look at why you’re considering going back to college, and whether or not it would be the right move for you. 

Here are several reasons why going back to college might be a bad idea: 

  • You have no idea what you want to do career-wise 

    • Going back to college is a costly endeavor and it will not be worth your time and money to go back without a focused understanding of what career you’re planning on going into. 

  • In today’s world, the cost of student loan debt is staggering 

    • According to a study by Student Loan Hero, a website that strives to help students efficiently pay off their student loan debt, American’s owe over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt and owe a minimum of $39,400. 

  • You had a difficult month at work, and are feeling unhappy, but are not sure if your dissatisfaction is only temporary 

  • Your friends/family/coworkers went back to school, so you feel like you should too 

  • You could easily go to a certification course to improve your skills instead of getting a new degree                  

Some things to consider before going back to college:

  • Whether or not going to college will lead to your desired career outcome 

    • Getting an MBA might not help you make more money in your desired field. Take this into consideration before heading back to college. 

  • Whether you have the time and money to invest in traditional education 

    • Are you already in debt? If so, are you willing to go into more? If not, are you willing to take some on? Will you go part-time or full-time? 

  • If there are non-traditional methods for getting the same kind of education 

    • This can include online courses that you can take while you’re working, certification courses, etc. 

  • Other factors like having children, mortgage payments, credit card debt, getting married, etc. 

Whether you decide to take certification courses to improve or expand your skillset or go back to college to get a new degree, you should feel confident that you are making the right choice for yourself and your career goals. You can increase your feelings of confidence by putting in the time and effort to research the career path you’re interested in, and by creating a plan for how you intend to reach your goals. Changing careers may be challenging, but it’s not impossible, and you are not alone in your search for ultimate happiness.


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