Career Insight

Should I Go Back to School During a Recession?

Should I Go Back to School During a Recession?

By Jonna Howe

There’s no denying the coronavirus pandemic has touched everyone in some way. Not only is the spread of COVID-19 a health threat, but it’s causing wide-spread economic fallout too.

If you’re in the midst of figuring out what to do next, returning to school has most likely crossed your mind. You’re probably wondering if it’s a good idea considering the cost of school and the ROI of different degree programs. In fact, many have sought refuge in the hallowed halls of universities in past economic downturns.

Going back to school right now could kickstart your career or saddle you with student loan debt, so being thoughtful in this decision is essential. There are a plethora of routes you could take when going back to school: from traditional associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degree programs to college alternatives/certification programs. So, if you’re playing with the idea of pursuing higher ed during a recession, here are a couple sides to the argument.

Why You Should Go Back to School 

It’s a chance to level up your skills and increase your earning potential. 

Now could be an excellent time to consider going back to school to learn new skills and possibly change careers. During a recession or times of high unemployment, there tends to be an increase in the number of people who enroll in higher ed. You could use this pause in your career to level up your current skill set.

Though the landscape is changing, some industries still prioritize hiring those who hold a degree, certification, or other credential. And if education is the only way to advance in the industry you’re in (or hoping to be in), there’s probably no better time to take on an educational program. You could gain the skills relevant to the industry today and potentially boost your hiring prospects and earning potential. Need we say more?

It’s a time to nurture your existing passions or learn more about new ones. 

This “Great Pause” in which we find ourselves might be the perfect time to nurture your passions. If you’ve honed in on a subject you want to learn more about and feel like you’ve read every book and exhausted all the online resources you can find on the topic, you could consider using this time to study it in a more official capacity. Of course, you’ve gotta crunch the numbers before making any decisions, but if you want to learn more about a passion, now could be the time.

It’s a way to transition into a more “recession-proof” industry. 

It’s impossible to predict when or what will cause the next recession or which industries will be impacted most. We can, however, take a look at trends from our current economic downturn.

The fallout from the Coronavirus is still evolving, but so far, the leisure and hospitality (this includes retail, restaurants, transportation, and travel) industries have been hit the hardest.

No industry is totally recession-proof but currently, a few business sectors are weathering the storm a bit better than others and tech is among those relatively growing. There are certainly layoffs in our industry right now but many tech companies are surviving the “Great Lockdown,” and some are even thriving. So if you’re thinking about changing careers, research jobs and industries that have provided more job security in uncertain times. While you’re at it, check out why you should consider starting your tech career now.

Why You Shouldn’t Go Back to School

You don’t know how the job market will look when you finish. 

Our country has experienced declining business markets in the past, and, the good news is, we’ve come out on the other side. But, you don’t really know what your job prospects will be when you get out of school and back into the job market post-recession.

The most recent economic downturn was the Great Recession of 2008, which was the most severe financial crisis in the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Millions of workers were laid-off, which led many to rethink their career choices and head back to school.

Quartz Senior Writer Sarah Todd recounts her experience going to grad school during the 2008 recession and ultimately advises others not to use an expensive degree program as a way to escape or hide from a recession or other tough life situation.

And we agree — the biggest mistake you could make is choosing the most expensive option expecting it to have the highest returns, or simply going because you don’t know what else to do during precarious financial times.

With this being said, try to get clear on why you want to go back to school right now. Is it because you want to improve your life, level up your career, and learn more about a subject you’re passionate about? Or, is it because you feel like it’s your only option due to a shrinking job market? Your answer to those questions will guide you to make the best decision.

You could go into debt. 

The thought of paying for school can be overwhelming, especially during tough economic times. This is why finding a program with accessible and affordable options is vital. Start by researching jobs and position titles. See how much you could potentially earn and compare that with how much you’ll owe.

It’s generally advised that your first year’s salary out of school should be greater than the amount of student debt you take on, so be mindful of this when you’re crunching the numbers. Also, look into scholarships and grants because the less you’ll owe, the better.

Certification programs will most likely be your most affordable (and shortest) option. At Kenzie Academy, it’s our mission to provide students with the best education and career outcomes as possible, at the most affordable price point. We’d love for you to join us but whatever you decide, when researching schools, make sure you compare tuition costs and payback options. The last thing you want is to be burdened with student debt. We don’t want that for you either, boo!

You could be better off gaining field experience. 

We’ve all seen the memes pointing out the hypocrisy of some entry-level job postings (see the example below). Though it depends on the field you’re entering, experience may be more important than a fancy degree. Do your research here and figure out what’s more valuable to employers in your field. And if you do choose to pursue higher education right now, make sure the program you take on will give you a fair amount of real-world experience. This way, you’ll have a richer understanding of the field and something concrete to show off to potential employers.

The Future is Yours.

Ultimately, the decision is yours. We know you’ll do your due diligence and make the choice to best serve you and your career in the long run. It can be scary to switch careers or go back to school, but don’t let fear hold you back from living your best life. Take this moment as an opportunity to regroup, gain new skills, and launch your career in the way you really want it to go. No matter what, finding a way to gain in-demand skills or just take part in some form of professional development could set you up for better job opportunities and higher salaries — something we can all get behind!


Ready to jumpstart your career as a UX Designer or Coder? Learn more about our 12-month Software Engineering and UX design programs, or check out our free beginner’s coding program Kenzie Free.

Related Reading

  • Date
    May 5, 2020
  • Posted In
    Career Insight
  • Share