Want to make more money? Go back to school!

Lately, I've been more vocal about the importance of looking for ways to boost your income. Cutting costs is awesome — don't stop — but if you really want to supercharge your debt reduction or your saving, you have to look for ways to earn more money.

“That's great,” some commenters have said, “but how do we earn more money.” That's a fair question, though it's much tougher to answer than, “How do I spend less?” For the most part, we all spend money on the same things. But we all earn money in different ways. We each have different work ethics, abilities, and styles. It's much more difficult to generalize about ways to earn more money.

All the same, it's a topic we've explored many times in the past here at Get Rich Slowly, in articles like:

If you're interested in earning more money, take some time to browse through the entrepreneurship archives here at GRS. (It may actually be time to update some of that material so that new readers can see it!)

Today, though, I wanted to share one fantastic way to improve your earning power, one that often gets overlooked: education.

Back to School

When I was sick of working for the family business in 1998 (and it looked like Kris and I might be moving to New Haven, Connecticut), I knew I had to increase my marketability. Nobody was going to hire a psych major whose only work experience was selling boxes. What did I do? I started taking classes at the community college and a local university.

In eighteen months, I earned the equivalent of a computer science minor. I went from knowing only the archaic BASIC language to being able to program in C and C++ and Perl and Tcl/Tk. (And, I'll admit, Visual BASIC.) More than that, I understood the concepts of programming, which could be applied to other languages, as well.

Although our move to New Haven never materialized, I put my new skills to good use. First, I rewrote our archaic software at the box factory. (For you geeks, we had been running programs written by my father in GFA BASIC on an Atari ST.) Next, I picked up a job programming computers for a researcher at another nearby university. And then one of his colleagues hired me. For most of 1999, I worked three 20-hour-a-week jobs. I made a lot of money — too bad I hadn't learned to put it to good use.

I've heard similar stories from all sorts of people, including friends and GRS readers. In fact, one of the entries in last spring's video contest came from a woman who is just starting her own mission to improve her education. And she's doing it the smart way: on the company dime.

Employer-Sponsored Education Programs

In Allison's short (one-minute!) video, she explains how she was able to take three college classes for only $20.

Not every company will pay for its employees to go back to school — but many do. And, as Allison says, if yours doesn't, it may be in your best interest to pitch your boss on the benefits of such a program.

At the box factory, we've always had a policy that we'll reimburse for one class per term. But you know what? Few people have ever taken advantage of the offer, and that's a shame. Even if you don't use your company's education reimbursement program to further your career, you can always use it pursue other interests. (I took many writing classes on the box company's dime.)

So, that's just one way to earn more money: Better your education. And — if you can do it — have your employer pay for classes!

Note: One of my favorite articles from the archives (and one I don't think I've ever linked back to) is about how to get a college education for $10 a course. You can't earn a degree this way, but you can get lectures from some top U.S. professors. Actually, this is another article I should update. There are a lot of new, free ways to listen and view college lectures from around the country.
More about...Economics, Education

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Andrzej
Andrzej
9 years ago

Hi there!
It’s an interesting article, and even a decade ago I would do the same, but.. don’t you think that some things have changed?

Now with so many Internet possibilities wouldn’t it be better to learn something new by your own, in your own time and put that into play?

Andrzej

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

I am a staunch advocate of further education. My wife took two years off and went back to school for an MPA degree, and it was the best thing she ever did. Her previous job paid well, but didn’t have a lot of opportunities to move up the ladder. I encourage her to go back full time and pursue her interest and it worked out really well. She finished grad school and has been working in a job that she really likes for 3 years now. She is making more money, work less, and is a lot happier. MPA is… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

Even if more education doesn’t improve your earning potential directly, it’s good for your thinking skills.

Derek
Derek
9 years ago

Need more money? Go back to school. Makes sense, but it’s not only the degree that will earn you more money. The knowledge is very important as well.

Instead of listening to the radio on the way to work, listen to an educational CD. Maybe you’re interested in improving your financial state – there’s a CD at the library that can help you with that. Interested in real estate? There’s a CD for that. Want to learn a second language? There’s a CD for that too!

Sara
Sara
9 years ago

Thanks retirebyforty for the info on your wife’s success. I decided to get my MPP and am about halfway through the program. Frankly, I absolutely love the program and am looking forward to working in policy and/or administration. I always think eduction is worth while. I am thinking PhD or law school as well at some point. Would certainly do it on the company’s dime, if possible. Most of our local colleges and universities offer free tuition for the employee and their spouse and children for full-time (and sometimes part-time) employees. Interesting that one could work as a groundskeeper or… Read more »

zach
zach
9 years ago

Did you just say Tcl/Tk? As in… for R?

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago
Just watch out for the terms of your company’s tuition program, if there is one. When I was hired, HR made a big deal about the tuition program at my company. There were classes I was interested in, and I checked with my supervisor and our HR generalist about my eligibility, dollar limits, what programs qualified, etc. Six months later when I had a better job offer, I learned that the tuition benefit was “paid off” over my next year of work, and if I quit I owed the company half of the tuition “benefit”.
Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

Note that this only works going in certain directions. If J.D. already had a bachelor’s degree in computer science, going back to school to earn the equivalent of a minor in psychology probably wouldn’t have done him a ton of good, income-wise. It’s more important that you know how to do something of value (like program computers) than it is for you to hold certifications and degrees. Employers realize this. This is why certain people who never finished college have no problem with employment — they can demonstrate their knowledge via their accomplishments (Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are obvious… Read more »

AMANDA
AMANDA
9 years ago

Rosa, if I owned a company with a tuition program I’d do the same thing. The point of giving education as a benefit is to help your employees move up in your own company. Then it’s a benefit to both. If someone takes my free education and walks off immediately I’d be ticked! I like the ideas for free education or taking classes in the evening, etc.; however, I don’t think people should go in debt for education. ESPECIALLY AFTER A CERTAIN AGE. I helped my mother in law, who was 60 at the time, pay off the rest of… Read more »

Carla
Carla
9 years ago

I am going back to school this winter, but I will be the one paying for it (no employer and on disability). Its good to see articles encouraging adults to go back. Thankfully I’m *only* 32 so I still have some working years ahead of me.

shalom
shalom
9 years ago

Another caution about company-paid classes: My company reimburses tuition only for education programs that will increase your value as an employee. One of my direct reports is working on a computer science degree, which is reimbursed so long as she keeps a B average. She doesn’t need that for her present job, but the company uses a lot of IT folks and there should be a need for her skills when she’s done. But the company doesn’t see any need for me to be better educated. I already have a professional degree, and no advanced degree is required for any… Read more »

leigh
leigh
9 years ago

I agree that going back to school is one way that someone might go about increasing their income. HOWEVER, I think there are important caveats to this that haven’t been mentioned. Not all education will increase your income. Not all majors/classes are created equal. Not all higher education institutions are created equal. There are many, many ways one might increase their education and find it of little value to their bottom line financially. To put it bluntly, I know plenty of college graduates who are working the crap retail and call center jobs I worked when I was in high… Read more »

Joe
Joe
9 years ago

Taking the GRE on Monday! Pros and cons of working at a university: stagnating income levels / discounted tuition. Need to take advantage of the latter now.

Sara A.
Sara A.
9 years ago

Many degrees and classes are WORTHLESS. It is a myth that going to school and working hard and getting good grades will get you ahead in jobs. I think so many people going to college are getting scammed into paying enormous amounts of money for degrees with little or no actual value.

Even traditionally worthwhile degrees in areas like law are no longer providing good job prospects. It seems like the only people making money off of higher education these days are the people working in higher education.

PB
PB
9 years ago

I am back in graduate school now and loving it. My employer is paying for some of it, but I also belong to LOTS of professional organizations, and they all have continuing education or professional education grants. I plan to apply to each one in turn until I am finished.

Lisa
Lisa
9 years ago

I have a degree and have been out of the field awhile. So, I decided to get recent experience by doing a volunteer internship. I learned alot and applied for jobs. No luck there as I was told I was not an employee. I am currently taking courses in hopes of that helping me as well. So far, I still don’t have any job offers. So, I am in the retail business, working with high school kids and making $9.00/hr. I still look for jobs and hope that all of this cash that’s being spent for courses works out in… Read more »

shalom
shalom
9 years ago

In case anybody does want to try out any Teaching Company classes, I just got an email from them with a sale — 80% off all CD-classes and free shipping, through midnight tomorrow. Coupon code is: THGV.

(And I’m not affiliated with them and don’t get a cut of any sales; just a long-time customer.)

Christian
Christian
9 years ago

Also, for a “free” education (subject to cost of Internet access), MIT is making many of their course materials available at http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/

Note of course that there is no way to prove that you did anything with them and so they are only good for the information and skills you extract from them and not toward any degree.

Malcolm
Malcolm
9 years ago

I strongly disagree with this article. I graduated with a B.Comm a few years ago, then decided to go back and get a Masters. BAD IDEA.

Now I am 3 years older, with the same job and more debt. Overqualified, what a huge waste of time.

Sheila
Sheila
9 years ago

My husband was lucky enough to work for a company that paid for his B.S. in computer science and even allowed him to take a term off work at 75% pay to go to school full-time to finish up. Lucky for him because the company sold his division right after the term was over. Since he had his B.S. then, he was hired as an engineer at another company that paid for his M.S. in computer science. So the investment by Tektronix was wonderful for him and for the company that hired him. Thankfully, there were no strings attached to… Read more »

KevinMzansi
KevinMzansi
9 years ago

I agree with with the posters who caution going back to grad school to get a better education. I am currently in the middle of a career change, two-thirds of the way through an advanced Finance qualification, but so far the extra education has landed me very little in the way of getting to the top of the resume pile. Make extra sure there is a return on the your investment of time and money. Here is a great article I found regarding job prospects from education in the current economy: http://www.vault.com/wps/portal/usa/blogs/entry-detail/?blog_id=1465&entry_id=11965&utm_source=Article102510&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=10FrighteningRealitiesofthePostRecessionEconomy Keep your eyes open to the industry in… Read more »

cheryl
cheryl
9 years ago

While not leading to a degree, you can also take free courses from many schools at academicearth.org, and Yale has a bunch at oyc.yale.edu. I’m one of those who believe the truly educated never graduate. Also check out your state schools. In my state, senior citizens can take classes for free as long as there is space available after all paying students have registered.

Jenn
Jenn
9 years ago

Higher education has morphed into many different offerings, some of which may help you earn more and some of which may just as likely cost you. A lot depends on what you expect to get from the education. If your main interest is the financial gain: (1) Is the gain going to be coming from the degree/certificate or from the actual content? If degree, I think the most value comes from community college and then onto a low-cost public U if you need the bachelor’s. If content is key, you may be able to get it from online sources, community… Read more »

shalom
shalom
9 years ago

I am sorry to comment again. Really. But I feel guilty over inadvertently providing only partial info in my earlier comment. I just tried to use the coupon code I provided for The Teaching Company, and it only gets you free shipping. To get the course discount, you also have to enter a “priority code,” which I found buried in the email, and which is priority code 49466. Sigh.

Shari
Shari
9 years ago

I agree that higher education CAN boost your income if everything goes right. I have a bachelor’s degree, without which I would not have my current position and would still be working for $8 an hour with no benefits. I am also currently getting my master’s degree. In my case, I think this will work well for me. My current employers know that I am working on the degree (and encouraged me to do it) and plan to give me a position at a much higher level of pay once I get the degree. While it is not guaranteed, I… Read more »

Kathryn
Kathryn
9 years ago

Along with employer benefits, don’t forget about federal and state grants! Sure, we’re not all eligible for them, but fill out the FAFSA, particularly if you’re a single parent. You’ll never know for certain what assistance you can get if you don’t ask.

Turns out, my tuition and fees are completely paid and I end up with money in my pocket. Who knew?

Briana @ GBR
Briana @ GBR
9 years ago

I’m enrolling in some additional programs to boost some of the skills I’m looking to increase. I think it’ll be a great thing to add to my resume and could earn me some extra income 🙂

Caitlin
Caitlin
9 years ago

I’ve often wondered: where do unionized employees fall in all this?

Generally, if you’re part of a union you can’t negotiate your raise or benefits. Even if you were the best employee of all time, you get the amount that the collective agreement says you get. (which certainly doesn’t always fall under the stereotypically “cushy union” heading – even a penny-pinching Non Profit organization can be unionized!)

Aside from getting a promotion (with a fixed raise), what can a unionized employee do to help themselves earn more money?

Sandy @yesiamcheap
Sandy @yesiamcheap
9 years ago

I don’t know that going back to school is the best answer all the time. I’ll give you the example of my companion who is 36. He just started school again full time and is not working to do so. He’ll end up spending $50K to get a degree but how much income will be have lost in the meanwhile, and how much additional debt will he take on to live while in school? He’ll be 40 when finished and this is not for an advanced degree. Not the best choice, in my humble opinion.

BD
BD
9 years ago

Yep! After not being able to find work in my field for over 5 years now, and having pinched every last penny til it screamed, and living below poverty level the entire time, I decided there would never be enough jobs in my field again (Graphic Design), and since I don’t have any CEO family members who can get me hired on in their company, the only other option was going back to college for yet another degree. So now, I’m in college again – started this past fall – for a degree in Accounting. I had put a lot… Read more »

Landon
Landon
9 years ago

Hi, thanks for the article. I recently just went through an intense internal debate about getting my MBA for the past month. I am a software developer in a stable job that pays well. But I was looking to do more with my life. I was encouraged to go for my MBA; I already took the GMAT exam and scored well on it. Well… I came to the conclusion it wasn’t worth it. The time and tuition cost is quite extreme (although you will make that money back and then some over the course of a lifetime). I realized that… Read more »

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