Ultimate Guide to Higher Education: Unlocking a World of Possibilities Posted byJohn Hall April 5, 2023April 5, 2023 Higher education, also known as postsecondary education, refers to study beyond the high school (secondary) level. This doesn’t just mean four-year colleges or universities—higher education encompasses other types of postsecondary schooling as well , including two-year community colleges, vocational schools, technical schools, and bootcamps. Postsecondary institutions may offer degrees at all levels—associate degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or doctorate—or only undergraduate degrees. Bootcamps and vocational schools typically offer postsecondary certificates or diplomas. The outcome of your education should depend in part on your career goals as well as the education requirements of the field you are interested in. More on this later! If you’re considering continuing your education beyond high school, you may have questions. Is higher education really worth it? What advantages does it offer? How do I find a higher education program, and what considerations are important in deciding on an institution? This guide aims to help you answer these questions. What Are the Benefits of Higher Education? Career Enhancement If you’re considering furthering your education beyond high school, you might want assurance that the time, effort, and money you may need to invest could contribute to your career success. While there are no guarantees in life, the information that follows indicates that you may not be disappointed. More job opportunities The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides data and information for 832 occupations. Of those occupations, 397 typically require education beyond a high school diploma . You might be thinking, “That’s not all that impressive—it’s less than half!” But the key word here is “require.” If you only have a high school education, nearly half of the available jobs could be out of your reach because you don’t meet the requirements. Yet jobs that don’t require higher education are also fair game for those who have attained it. And when the job market is tight, employers who don’t require higher education might still prefer to hire someone who has it over someone who doesn’t. Why? Many employers consider those with postsecondary education to be more job ready than those without. Managers and recruiters look for employees with the “essential learning outcomes” that postsecondary institutions focus on developing, such as skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork. Lower unemployment Not only do the number of potential jobs increase with higher education, so does the likelihood that you will be employed. Let’s look at the data. This graph shows the unemployment rate for people with varying levels of education. Even without reading the numbers you can see that as education level goes up, unemployment level goes down. Higher wages Data consistently shows that those with more education have higher earning potential. This graph clearly shows the relationship between level of education and yearly median wage. But not only could people with higher education earn more, they may have a greater opportunity to do so. Remember that BLS list of 832 jobs? Of the jobs for which the median annual pay is $60,000 or more, 80% require some kind of postsecondary education. And for jobs that have a median annual salary of $80,000 or more, 91% require education beyond high school. Wow. Personal Growth Not all outcomes can be represented with numbers and graphs. Some are intangible, yet they are still important. One such outcome is personal growth. Personal growth is the process of working toward achieving your full potential, developing a better version of yourself, and finding ways to improve the quality of your life. Higher education could foster personal growth by challenging students’ current values, understandings, and ways of thinking. It may boost self-esteem and strengthen students’ general self-concept. Intellectual Development General intelligence is thought to consist of two types: crystalized intelligence (GC) and fluid intelligence (GF). GC refers to knowledge gained through education and personal experience. GF refers to skills such as problem solving and reasoning that could help you navigate and adapt to new situations. Higher education plays a role in fostering growth of both types of intelligence. It exposes students to new ideas and concepts and builds knowledge and “hard skills” that could be required for specific careers . It also plays a role in promoting the development of “soft skills,” such as communication, critical thinking, and problem solving, and teaches students to ask questions, reflect, and analyze. Not only could such skills aid you in meeting the challenges of life, they may also be sought after by potential employers. Social Development Social development doesn’t stop when we reach adulthood . And it involves more than just meeting new people and building relationships. Social-emotional learning (SEL) refers to the development of self-awareness, social awareness, and interpersonal skills that may impact your success in many areas of life. The interpersonal experiences that higher education could provide may be rich learning environments for the development of social skills. Your interactions with a diverse yet often like-minded set of people could help you enhance your teamwork and leadership skills and your ability to understand the impact of social dynamics on people and organizations. Networking Opportunities Postsecondary institutions typically provide a great environment for building a network through interactions with peers, professors, and professionals. Networking could help you learn more about your industry, find mentors, and aid you in landing a job. In fact, many people attribute their success in finding a job to networking. Part of the reason for this is obvious—the more people you know who might have professional connections, the wider you could cast your net when searching for a job. In addition, some jobs may not be advertised publicly—if you don’t know someone in the company or associated with it, you might never hear about the job at all. Education for the Common Good We’ve talked about the benefits of higher education in terms of how it could positively impact your life and your future. But your education may also contribute to the endeavors of others, and to society as a whole—even if only in a small way. Your education could promote the common good. Innovation and change rely in part on new knowledge and ideas. Higher education promotes the development of new knowledge through its commitment to quality education, academic research, and building and growing academic communities. Choosing a Higher Education Program If you were on the fence about postsecondary education, hopefully by now we’ve made a convert of you. But, as mentioned previously, higher education is a general term that includes a range of options. Which one might fit your future goals? Personal Goals Before you start exploring schools, examine your personal goals. These might range from very specific goals—perhaps you are interested in working in education—or very broad—you’re not sure what your future looks like, but you know you want to better yourself and expand your career options. Thinking about both short-term and long-term goals could help you narrow down the area you might study and subsequently work in. Keep in mind, however, that it’s OK to not know, to have a variety of interests and not have a clear vision of your future. There are academic programs and university degrees—such as General Studies programs or Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts programs—that allow you to explore a range of subjects. And many employers may value people employees who have shown the initiative to further their education, even if they didn’t focus on one particular area. Still, the following considerations could help you gain some basic insights about the direction you want to go in. Consider your skills and talents. What are you good at? Perhaps you have an artistic streak. Maybe you like solving puzzles, working with your hands, or helping people. Focusing on an area that you have past, positive experience with could help set you up to succeed. Consider your interests. While it may be that some of your interests overlap with your talents, this might not always be the case. You might be interested in areas that you haven’t had a chance to experience yet. Perhaps you’ve always been intrigued by the criminal justice system—whether law enforcement or the judicial system. Maybe you have a passion for making a difference in the world in an area such as the environment or civil rights. You may have played doctor when you were small and have an interest in healthcare. Don’t disregard things that don’t seem career-related. An interest in sports, travel, or cooking could also provide clues as to the subject you want to focus on. Consider your work style. Do you like to work with other people, in teams, or do you prefer to work by yourself? Would you go nuts sitting in an office all day, or does the office life appeal to you? Do you need a lot of variety, or do you like to focus on one thing? No matter how much a field interests you, if it doesn’t jive with your work style, it may be the wrong choice. Think about your financial aspirations. While choosing a field of study based only on money may not put you on the right course, NOT thinking about money could also be problematic. Do you have or want a large family? Do you live (or want to live) in an expensive area? Do see value having a nice home, car, or other possessions? Do you like to travel frequently? These questions could help you get a sense of what your financial requirements might be. One helpful resource you might investigate is, once again, the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their list of occupations also includes entry-level education requirements, job duties, work environment, job growth, and typical salary. Even if you are fairly sure about what you want to study, checking the details of the field could be helpful. Current Lifestyle It’s important to be realistic when considering pursuing higher education. What is your life like now, and what do you envision in the future? Is your time limited, perhaps by family, work, or other responsibilities? Are you tied to a specific geographical area? Are you happy with your current career, but looking for to enhance it? Are you anxious to get out into the workforce as quickly as possible? Or, is your biggest priority investing the time it takes to get you where you want to be? There are higher education options that could fit any of these scenarios. Online programs could give you flexibility with regard to where you live since you could study remotely. Many of these programs allow you to study any time of the day or night, which could help you fit your education into a busy schedule. While people often think of colleges and universities and four-year degree programs when they think of postsecondary education, there are actually other options. Many careers only require a postsecondary certificate, which could be earned in less than a year, depending on the subject area. You might also attend a bootcamp, which is a short, intensive program that is designed to provide you with hands-on skills in a particular field. Trade schools are similar in that they may be shorter term and provide specific skills you may need to succeed in a career. Again, take a look at the BLS’s list of occupations. You could get an idea of how much time you might need to invest in order to meet the typical requirements of an occupation. Research Your Program Options At this point, you may be ready to explore specific institutions and programs. But where do you even start? Before you start, remember to review your time constraints. Do you have time to invest in a 4-year (or more) program at a traditional college or university? Is 2 years the max time you can spend? Less than 2 years? Try to be realistic, but also consider your future goals. Conducting an internet search for the types of programs you may want, along with your general interests, could be a great place to start. In addition to specific schools and degree programs, you may find websites that provide support in matching you to a program that fits your goals. These are typically free. In narrowing down your options, focus on the following: Is the school accredited? Accreditation is verification from an outside accrediting agency that a school has met certain educational standards. Not only might choosing an accredited school help ensure that you could get a quality education, it may also give you an edge in searching for a job. Does the school have adequate offerings to help you meet your goals? Examine the types and numbers of courses offered in a subject area by looking at the school’s site or checking out their catalog of courses. Can you afford it? The cost of pursuing a postsecondary education varies widely. When determining the price tag for a program, look beyond just tuition. Are there any other fees—for example, for books, materials, or registration? Would you need to invest in technology—for example, if you were to attend an online college? If you are interested in attending in person, would there be living costs, travel costs, or relocation costs? Also look into the types of financial aid an institution may offer. While some schools may seem to be expensive at first glance, they might have financial offerings that could offset the cost. What is the reputation of the school? Do you know anyone who attended the school? What did they think of it? Consider talking to current students to get their input. Look at school rankings, but keep in mind their limitations. Different rankings may use different criteria. And ranking doesn’t ensure that a school might be a good fit for you. How long could it take to complete the program you’re interested in? Although the type of institution—e.g., trade school, 4-year university, etc.—plays a part in determining program length, keep in mind that there are variations within school types. A certificate program might take 6 weeks or 2 years. A traditional college may offer accelerated programs degree programs that allow you to complete your studies faster. This is also true with online colleges, which typically offer a fair amount of flexibility. Conclusion Higher education drives personal growth, promotes the exchange of ideas, and fosters innovation and change. It strives to provide students with both the skills and knowledge they need to succeed—and excel—in today’s competitive workforce. Higher education is an investment in yourself and your future, and it could open up a world of possibilities. Start exploring your options today!