My employer is going to pay me $5,000/year to go to school. Help me figure out my next move.
March 30, 2010 6:33 AM   Subscribe

My employer is going to pay me $5,000/year to go to school. Help me figure out my next move.

My employer, a healthy medium-sized financial services firm that does business in all 50 states, has recently presented full-time employees with the option to be reimbursed $5,000/year for tuition/books/fees.

I have a bachelor's degree in communication (wannabe journalist at one point) and have long-wanted to pursue more education without incurring any student loan debt. Here, apparently, is the opportunity.

What I'd love your help with is figuring out precisely the direction I should go based on the way you perceive the marketplace moving in the next 10/20/30/40 years.

The employer's guidelines are fairly broad: Pursue education that "relates to a career field within the company." Fortunately, the fields covered include (and this is a shortened list): accounting, economics, finance, marketing, organizational leadership, statistics, training, and psychology. Each of these interests me for one reason or another.

Now, I'm that classic "I like a lot of things and don't have a ton of career direction in my life" guy, but I'm 29, buying a house, and really need to pick something and stick with it. (My previous jobs have included fundraising for a university and media production for baseball teams.) And I don't want to pursue a master's degree if it will not be useful in the marketplace (i.e., masters in art history, no offense meant).

My interests, as mentioned, are rather broad. Teaching seems like it could be fun. I've been told I'd make a good therapist (psychiatrist), and I think that'd be rewarding. I like the idea of career counseling. I also like numbers (but my math skills stop at geometry), and human behavior, and why people act the way they do. Sports psychology is intriguing.

Thus, back to the question: What do you believe will be useful in the marketplace in the near and far future? And given this information, can you provide me with some thoughts on what to pursue? (Bonus points if: You can comment on quality educational institutions in southeastern Michigan, and you can comment on the quality of online education.)
posted by st starseed to Education (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You say your math skills stop at geometry, but that shouldn't be a problem if you take a course on accounting. Now, as a disclaimer, IANAA, but in a number of my positions in real estate and business I've had to get comfortable with accounting issues and it would have been a heck of a lot easier had I taken some basic accounting courses. As you work at a financial services firm, it seems wholly applicable.

So, to your point about the marketplace, I think accounting would be your best bet due to its applicability across nearly all fields, from high finance to not-for-profit. You could even make life easier on yourself if you're doing your own taxes, and even pick up a few bucks on the side during tax time helping others, as I know some of my accountant friends do. While Quickbooks isn't GAAP, if you develop some Quickbook-fu on the side, that's another source of revenue you can tap via work with small businesses.

And besides, the accounting would flow into finance, I'd imagine, so you might as well get the foundational knowledge and you can probably work on the actual finance skills via OJT.

Best of luck!
posted by Imhotep is Invisible at 6:45 AM on March 30, 2010


The employer's guidelines are fairly broad: Pursue education that "relates to a career field within the company." Fortunately, the fields covered include (and this is a shortened list): accounting, economics, finance, marketing, organizational leadership, statistics, training, and psychology. Each of these interests me for one reason or another.

Ok, I'm biased because I have one, but have you considered an MBA? Pretty much every one of those topics is covered to some degree or other in an MBA program, and you can focus heavily in one or more of those areas as you figure out what you're interested in.
posted by swngnmonk at 6:46 AM on March 30, 2010


"Quality educational institutions in southeastern Michigan" = "University of Michigan."

Unfortunately, "$5000/year" != "University of Michigan," so you may need to tap some other resources or do this for quite a while if you want to finish a masters there.

As far as nailing down a speciality though, I think you need to narrow your focus. You work for a financial services firm. The firm is willing to pay for you to get more education, yes, but the assumption is almost certainly that this will be useful to the firm. I.e., sports psychology, therapy, and most teaching careers are probably right out.* Your employer is trying to increase the value and efficiency of its workforce, not enable you to start a second career. You may find that that $5000 is not quite as strings-free as you make it out to be. My employer offers rather generous eduacational benefits, but they have to approve a program of study before they'll pay for it, so picking up that masters in history which I think would be so much fun isn't going to make it past HR. My interests are not going to be important to them as theirs are.

That being said, you probably still have a number of options here, though you'd be best off considering something related to your current position, even if indirectly. Financial services companies generally like people with experience and qualifications relevant to, well, financial services. So accounting, economics, statistics, etc. But as a national employer, they're also going to need HR, marketing, tech services, and management people. An MBA would seem to be an obvious choice if you wanted to go into management, but that involves a pretty high tolerance for pure, unadulterated bullshit which isn't for everyone. An MSA (accountancy degree) could easily work, and you can actually get certified as an actuary without any specific degree as long as you pass the exams.

I'd recommend talking to HR. See what they think their hiring needs for the next five years will be, and talk to them about what positions you could be eligible for with the right qualifications.

*Also, for the record, psychiatrists have M.D.s and prescribe medication, while psychologists have Ph.D.s and are what most people have in mind when they think of "therapy." Note that neither is really doable with a masters, nor part time. I'd look elsewhere unless you're planning on stopping work.
posted by valkyryn at 6:48 AM on March 30, 2010


Psychiatrists go to medical school; I don't think $5K/year will cut that. And I assume you're expected to work and go to school on your own time, so if you pursue a psychology graduate degree, you'll need to ascertain first whether students are expected to participate full-time in the degree program. There are counseling degrees (these are sometimes through psych departments, or sociology or social work) that are meant to point you at your state licensing requirements for LPC and similar, that might be something that fits in your schedule and price point.

Accounting and finance are never going to go away. I'm going to guess marketing isn't either, or math. Therapeutic counseling can be rewarding, and also soul-sucking, and given that nobody knows for sure what insurance is going to look like in ten years, maybe risky. Psychology degrees oriented toward organizational, industrial, human factors, human resources, and marketing - call it corporate psychology, though that's not a real term as far as I know - will keep you on a management track, or consulting.

The path of least resistance would be an MBA. It's never going to hurt you to have one, and there are programs that have really interesting emphases, plus most programs are geared now towards people who work.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:52 AM on March 30, 2010


If you want to learn stats, or economics, you'll need to boost your basic math skills to the level of calculus. I would do that if I were you.
Unfortunately, "$5000/year" != "University of Michigan," so you may need to tap some other resources or do this for quite a while if you want to finish a masters there.
Well, according to this tuition table Full time tuition for a Michigan resident is $5,735. And for part time it's $805 for the first hour, $449 for each additional hour. So four credit hours = $2,302 per semester. Not impossible. It might end up more then $5k for the whole year, but not unbearably much more.

That's for undergraduate. Graduate rates very by college.
posted by delmoi at 7:05 AM on March 30, 2010


That's for undergraduate. Graduate rates very by college.

In-state tuition for graduate programs is significantly higher, particularly for business.
posted by puffin at 8:45 AM on March 30, 2010


I second or third MSA in accounting. Accounting is still a growing industry. It's not all about fact checking and receipt collecting anymore....especially with your financial services background. Depending on the tuition and the school you are able to enter, however, I would talk to your employer to see if you could get that money to go higher than 5000 a year. Unfortunately if you receive more than 5000 from your employer on tuition reimbursement, you have to pay taxes for the difference, but in the end, it's well worth the money...especially considering the textbooks, parking, notebooks, commute, etc. Only ask this if you have received great reviews for the past two years.

MBA is also worth considering but I would consider it if you are able to go to top 10-20 b-schools.

My advice is, because I am also interested in everything and anything, pick one that you see yourself in, and stick with it...don't look back.
posted by icollectpurses at 9:19 AM on March 30, 2010


Does it have to be a master's degree? Can it be undergrad courses that prep you for a masters or a second bachelor's degree?

If you're working full time, you'll be relegated to taking night / weekend courses on a part time basis, I would think, so I think $5,000 will supplement most of what you a looking for, like a scholarship.

I'm going to chime in on the MBA - it's not bad to have one. They seem to be a dime a dozen, but if you're not relying on it to find a plumb management job fresh out of school, a good MBA program can give you some good skills in the workplace, and may improve the likelihood of promotion.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:13 AM on March 30, 2010


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