Should I Return to College? Examine Your Head and Your Heart

Should I Return to College? Examine Your Head and Your Heart

The decision to return to school can be a scary process especially if you do not have a family member, friend, or co-worker who can share their successful experience with you. For many adults, making an informed decision to continue their education often begins with a personal cost-benefit analysis, including the identification and measurement of the cost as well as the benefits and defining the time horizon for their educational investments (B. P. Dunn and W. R. Sullins). Essentially, they research how much it will cost, is it worth it, and how soon they can expect the benefit. This important information will likely impact your decision to ultimately return to school or not. 

As with many life decisions, using a cost-benefit analysis appeals to your head because it is factual, scientific, and verifiable. However, as most marketing executives would suggest, an effective change initiative requires an appeal to both the head and the heart. 

Appealing to the Heart

What typically appeals to our hearts? For most people, this category contains things related to our basic needs, including food, water, shelter, sleep, others, people, and novelty. Novelty is defined by the opportunity to learn and/or fail, and when this occurs, dopamine is released in the brain. Without a regular dose of novelty, you lose motivation and your healthy sense of well-being. 

While the remaining categories are considered self-explanatory, the “others” category is not as clearly defined. However, its impact can leave a lasting impression on your decision to return to school. 

As you attempt to make this decision, you should start with the end in mind. This outcome-based approach was made popular by Stephen Covey in his widely acclaimed book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and aligns with an approach that examines things from the heart’s perspective. In a 1996 commencement speech at Georgia Tech, then Coca-Cola President and CEO Bryan Dyson shared the concept of juggling glass and rubber balls when seeking to find work/life balance. This concept can also be applied to many life experiences, including the decision to continue ones’ education. 

Am I ready To Go Back to School?

If you think you want to return to college but aren’t sure if you are ready, take some time to consider these approaches to the decision-making process:

1.    Reflect on the rubber ball approach

Consider your responsibilities. You may want to make a list in which you categorize the things that you consider glass and rubber balls, realizing that rubber balls bounce, while glass balls are marked by the impact. For example, if you are a parent or spouse, you are likely keenly aware of the limited time that you have to spend with your family. Thus, for most of us family would be considered a glass ball, one that we simply cannot drop as our family would not be the same if we simply stopped interacting with them until the desired degree is complete. However, volunteering may be categorized as a rubber ball because you can postpone this commitment or decrease the frequency of your volunteering while you work toward your professional goal. Remember, rubber balls bounce back. 

2.    Implement the DOC approach

I created this acronym and personally use it to see if there are things that I can Delegate, Outsource, or Communicate (DOC) with others to ensure completion. Use this DOC approach as you review your glass ball category. As you complete this step, please be sure to give this process the time it deserves, truly reflecting on and listing your responsibilities. One way to do this is to keep a daily log for one week and create a full and accurate overview of your responsibilities. For example, family is in the glass ball category for me and often has several components that require my daily attention. There are often household responsibilities, physical, emotional, financial, childcare and/or carpool responsibilities, and several tasks that need to be addressed for each. This detailed type of consideration is imperative as I attempt to avoid dropping glass balls that can be forever damaged.

When you review the list you created, delegate the responsibilities that you can (perhaps someone else in the household can do the laundry, for instance). Outsource things if you cannot delegate them within the household. For example, consider using grocery delivery services, childcare co-ops, etc. Communicate effectively and frequently, and lastly, share the journey with those around you. 

3.    Choose the right degree program

Finally, find a program that appeals to both your head and your heart. Ashford University offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in more than 80 programs that cover  some of today’s in-demand fields including education, health care, information management, business administration, and environmental studies*. Many also offer specializations in more specific areas, allowing you to hone in on topics that will help you achieve your more defined goals.  

At first, the decision to return to school may seem overwhelming, especially if you work and have a family or other responsibilities to tend to. However, by considering the three approaches – and examining both head and heart – you will come to a conclusion that best suits your needs and lifestyle. 


Written by Dr. Tamecca Fitzpatrick, chair for the Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education Leadership program in the College of Education at Ashford University.

*Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.

B. P. Dunn and W. R. Sullins, Journal of Education Finance, (Summer 1982), 20-32

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