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Should I prioritize getting a Bachelors degree or getting job certifications?

I have a two-year degree in what is essentially digital photography (my childhood dream) that I got immediately after high school. I have since decided that this isn’t a good fit for me as a career, and have been struggling to find my first job.

In 2019, I went back to my local community college to take some professional development classes to try and build my resume. These classes so far have been training in MS Word, Excel, and Access, communication skills, and customer service skills. I’ve had to step away for a bit for personal reasons, but I plan to start working towards the Professional Administrative Certificate of Excellence (PACE Certification) in the next few weeks.

But.

I’ve recently learned that the college money that my parents set aside for me is still available - they paid for my community college degree out of pocket (which completely blows my mind). It’s a nest egg big enough that I can essentially get a bachelors degree for “free” without taking out any student loans. This is an amazing opportunity that I am lucky to have, and I want to make sure that I use this money wisely.

My parents have been super generous by letting me live at home until I can get my feet under me…but I’m now in my early 30s. My dad plans to retire next year. We’re currently trying to navigate what that looks like, but I want to be financially independent as quickly as possible so I don’t become a leech.
I don’t know if I am necessarily trying to choose my entire career right now. I’ve always been told that education was the key to a good life and career, and I don’t want to waste this money. I am currently looking for work and doing all the things associated with that - I am constantly applying for jobs, I volunteer, I’ve taken several job/career assessments, I’m getting into networking, etc. I’m trying to cast as wide of a net as possible to find this first job - I’m open to almost anything.

So - what would be the best strategy for my situation? Should I go for the bachelors degree? Or should I focus on getting certified in various job fields/disciplines and get my bachelors after I find employment? What is the quickest route to a job that will allow me to finally move out of my parents’ house (and, preferably, to buy my own home)?

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Emmanuel’s Answer

A lot of certification programs either need or work well with a bachelor's degree. The value of a bachelor's degree may not be as high as it once was, but if you can get it for free and you don't have any other plans for the money besides further education or vocational training, I'd say go for it. Think about whether you could live on campus. It's a great place to make friends, learn about different career paths, and broaden your horizons.

Being an older student, you have a unique advantage - you already know what you don't want, which gives you a better chance of finding something that truly enriches your life. A university is more than just a place of learning, it's also a network. You'll meet people who can keep you in the loop about job opportunities, especially once you become an alumni.

Living and socializing on campus can be a game-changer. Being surrounded by people who are driven and have big aspirations was a key factor in helping me launch my own business. In fact, most of my initial clients were people I met at school or through school connections.

Remember, your bachelor's degree won't cost you anything, so there's no financial risk to consider beyond the time you'll invest. And if you decide you need further qualifications later, you can always pursue certificates.
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James Constantine’s Answer

Dear Megan,

I recommend you focus on obtaining job certifications rather than pursuing a Bachelor's degree, considering your current circumstances and career aspirations. Here's why:

1. Your present situation: Despite your dedication to a two-year digital photography degree, it seems to be misaligned with your career objectives. Also, you're finding it tough to land your first job. In such a situation, it's crucial to concentrate on acquiring practical skills and certifications that are sought after in the job market.
2. Job certifications: Earning job certifications such as the Professional Administrative Certificate of Excellence (PACE Certification) can give you a leg up in the job market. These certifications validate your proficiency and abilities in specific areas like Microsoft Office, communication, and customer service. Employers often favor candidates with relevant certifications, as it shows you possess the necessary knowledge and skills to fulfill the job duties.
3. Career aspirations: If you're planning to shift into an administrative role, holding a certificate in professional administration can be advantageous. The PACE Certification is a nationally acknowledged credential that can make you stand out in the job market and boost your earning potential.
4. Return on investment: Investing in job certifications can yield a higher return on investment than a Bachelor's degree, particularly if you're eager to join the workforce soon. Certifications are typically less costly and can be completed in less time, enabling you to commence work and earn a salary earlier.
5. Flexibility: Numerous job certifications can be accomplished online or through continuing education programs, offering flexibility in scheduling and pace. This is particularly useful if you have personal obligations or other commitments that make attending traditional classes challenging.

In summary, given your current circumstances and objectives, prioritizing job certifications over a Bachelor's degree is the most recommended path. Here are three authoritative references to back up this advice:

1. "The Importance of Certifications in the Job Market" by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
2. "The Value of Professional Certifications" by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)
3. "Certifications and Licenses: A Key to Career Advancement" by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Bear in mind, these references offer general information and might not be customized to your specific situation. It's crucial to do your research and consult with a career counselor or a hiring expert in your preferred field to determine the best strategy for your career aspirations.

Wishing You Success,
James Constantine.
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Michelle’s Answer

Hello, Megan !

I would be happy to give some advice to you but there is no way I can tell anyone what would be a "quick" way for finding a job. The decision will be up to you but it's very good that you obtain a lot of advice on your situation. It sounds as though you are headed in the right direction.

Although Certifications are wonderful, my basic advice to you would be to get a Bachelors degree. As soon as you can start, the better. If you begin now, you will have your degree sooner than later. If you wait, the cost of college will rise and the financial aspect may become an issue, one that doesn't seem to be an issue currently. Your college experience will be unique to you and no one can say what it will mean to you. You have to experience it. College is about learning, but it is also about challenges, meeting a variety of people, sharpening your oral and written communication skills, and a huge boost to personal development at any age. Choose a college and see if you can enroll in the Spring semester, yes, that soon. Having your Associates Degree already is a great start.

Have you considered freelance work as a photographer ? You can work for yourself and take on projects at your discretion. That means you'll have to get the word out, be listed as a photographer in local directories, and perhaps make a website, showing some of your work. I would suggest registering at Linked In and Indeed. Both of these employment websites send out jobs based on your interests. You can set notifications for various types of jobs. Consider both on site and remote work, too. You are doing the right thing by applying for work and covering as much ground as possible.

It will be great to add the classes on your resume that you've mentioned. The certifications, however, are something that I'd like to advise you on, at least one aspect of it. When you go for Certifications it is assumed that it is a required course and exam to be Certified in a career field that requires it. Make sure you find out if it is that sort of certificate or if it would just be a certificate of attendance or certificate of completion. Many things/career fields require licensure or official certification, but a lot of fields of work do not. I wouldn't say to quit anything that you are doing, but you will see that it will be important to start on and focus on your Bachelors degree. That will ultimately be up to you, however. You can always take certifications and trainings after you get your Bachelors degree and also while you are working thereafter.

Unfortunately, I do not have an answer to your very last question in your inquiry. No one can tell you at which speed, when or how you will get a job and how much money you will be paid. It will just be a matter of going on interviews and hearing what the company is paying. It's a legitimate concern, but no one really has that answer. But I can advise that you should get your Bachelors Degree as soon as possible. New opportunities will open up for you. Consider freelancing with your photography also. It sounds like you have one most important thing right now: ambition ! So keep doing what you're doing and I wish you all the best !
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Sherri’s Answer

Hello!

The question is what do you want to do besides photography? For me I like to do things hands on and in the field so I would have benefitted more from going to a trade school or apprenticeship. These also help get jobs in specified fields and often in trade or apprenticeships you get the work experience, so you get hired quicker (not always but sometimes).

Certifications are great I have a couple, but you have to renew many of them or update them. Depending on the certification if they are technology related, they can go out of date very quickly.

Also, if you want to work in a certain company look into if they offer education options. Many companies are offering college reimbursement programs or will send you to classes to develop your skills with them.

-Sherri
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