As you consider your journey toward whatever goal you have (ministry, career, etc.), the subject of higher education is certain to enter the process. Undergraduate degrees, Grad School and Seminary are all viable options (and often they are necessary steps) to help reach your goal.
Along the way, you will encounter some hard questions. Sometimes, the answers to your questions should come from an external source (as opposed to a person or entity that has an interest in their answer!). This is not to question the credibility of those within an industry – that their position would color their response in order to make their industry look more attractive than appropriate – it is to validate their responses with cross-referenced information (see Proverbs 15:22).
With this in mind, we will now discuss some hard questions and provide some honest answers!
Q: If I believe a Degree is in my best interest, what type of Degree Program (Certificate, Associates or Bachelors) should I pursue?
A: It depends on many variables
We will start our discussion with the assumption that you have determined (after much research, time and consideration) that a degree is necessary for your particular path. The answer for what type of program will answer itself in some circumstances; you may have multiple options for others.
Consider: If you are a young person who seeks a senior pastorship one day, a Certificate program could be the best option. This is because a Certificate will help get employment and you will gain experience (and income) to continue your growth process and save up for additional coursework at Seminary (similar to a ‘work-study’ program).
If you are more career-minded but don’t necessarily have the time (or cash flow) to attend a 4-year school full-time, then pursuing your Associates Degree may be the best stepping stone on your way. There are accredited Community Colleges where you can earn transferable credits (which is a lower-cost alternative).
Too often, matriculating to college is ‘expected’ once your diploma is in hand. This is not necessary – degrees are awarded to graduates of all ages! There really is NO RUSH in continuing your formal education. The attitude of college recruiters is to ‘strike while the iron is hot’ and sign up as many new freshmen as possible (without regard to their readiness for college). A decision to attend college should be followed up immediately by the decision WHEN to attend college. But I digress.
In order to properly determine which program type is best, you must weigh these components:
- Do I have capacity for full-time education (I will pay for it and not have capacity to earn much more than spending money)?
Attending a 4-year school full time is expensive and, by definition, will take four years of your time to complete. For many, this is acceptable through student loans and grants; although the debt load at graduation can be large (depending on the school and program chosen). It accomplishes your degree and prepares you to launch your career without contingency. There is a gamble, however, since the classroom and office/field are very different from each other. It is a real risk to get into your field and realize that you just don’t enjoy the work!
- Is there a compelling need to complete a degree program as soon as possible?
Some fields have a great need for qualified workers NOW. If this is the case, then it is in your best interest to pursue the degree and get to work as soon as possible. If the answer is no, then you will need to return to item #1 above and make sure you have capacity (since the risk of missing a strong opportunity is minimal).
- Would an alternative path (i.e. Certificate or Associates) be just as viable to meet my needs now?
There can be a great benefit to starting down a career path while learning about the field you are in. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement to current employees. Also, you are exposed to the industry without being locked in. If you don’t like the work and don’t see a satisfactory path through the unpleasant portions, you are free to change your direction without feeling like you wasted money and time on a degree in a field you aren’t interested in.
- What is the risk of delaying college until I have capacity (money + time)?
Hard on the heels of item #4 is the risk assessment of delaying. Once you enter the workforce, it is hard to forego an income to attend full-time classes (even if there is quantifiable reward at the end of the journey). It is a hard decision – particularly if there are others (spouse and/or children) depending on your income by the time you can return to school.
Consider this wild-card thought: outside of legal, medical and other scientific fields, a significant portion of college graduates are no longer in the industry associated with their degree program after 5-10 years! Will this impact your decision process?