Exchanging Pinstripes for Tweed: Going Back to School

by Vault Education Editors | May 14, 2009

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It's no surprise that many newly-unemployed peopleare heading back to school to wait out the recession and learn skillsthat will advance their careers. Better-educated professionals wereless likely to be laid off in this recession (studies showed thatemployees with a college degree under their belt were let go in fewernumbers than employees with only a high school diploma); a person'seducation level has even been connected to physical health and life span; and the national education level is directly correlated to a country's GDP.Despite these many benefits, the most common motivation for peoplereturning to school these days remains career advancement.

A good rule of thumb for surviving a recession is:if your current skill set isn't getting you a job, develop a new skillset. Since being laid off, many Americans have decided to go back toschool to learn a new, more employable profession, thereby switching toa more in-demand career path. In April, The New York Timesreported a surge in the number of applicants for vocational andtechnical programs. They reported that people were going back to schoolto learn "marketable skills in a hurry," ones that would get themstarted in technical, business and health care industries, which haveremained relatively stable in this economy. These programs, usuallyunder a year long and relatively inexpensive ($10,000 to $15,000 orso), are designed as quick turnarounds for professionals looking tochange their career paths with minimal costs. Perfect for peoplelooking to adapt to the new job landscape.

Efficient, career-boosting programs aren't theonly ones seeing a jump in applications; recent data shows that PhDprograms have also seen an increase. Interestingly, while vocationalprogram surges have been in "healthy" industries, the PhD programs withsome of the biggest application rises are in one of theunhealthiest—finance. Top finance doctorate programs have seenapplication increases of 20 to 50 percent over the past year (theWharton School's finance PhD program received 54 percent more apps inthe 2008-2009 season). These schools point out that many applicants arerecently unemployed professionals (including many from Wall Street)looking to make themselves more marketable—and not just in academia.Traditionally, the majority of PhD grads stays within the Ivory Towerand pursues careers as professors and scholars. With a potentialbusiness faculty shortage only a few years away, many current financestudents will eventually fill that void. But today's PhD candidatesaren't just thinking about careers in academia. When the financeindustry recovers, many (about a third in previous years) newly-mintedPhDs will re-enter the corporate world as highly-competitive jobcandidates. Not only will these new PhDs have the terminal educationnecessary to get a great job, the degree will also provide more jobsecurity should there be another recession.

In this economy, it seems that both PhD andvocational program students are looking to learn marketable skills and,in many cases, change careers. Employability after graduation remainsthe main goal, no matter what path you take after graduation. Going toschool is good for your career, your body and your country—and itsounds like Americans have gotten the message.

Filed Under: Education

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