It’s Elementary: Academic Goals Lead to Professional Growth


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Monday, February 6, 2023
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Getting an education can be a significant investment of time and money; you’ll save more of both by starting with concrete goals. Going back to school with one eye on your books and one eye on your professional horizon can help you put together an education plan that will get you to where you want to be. The key to discovering how to set academic goals that go hand-in-hand with your professional ones is to be honest with yourself and understand what you want from your career.

The Right Soil

Every plant needs the right soil and the right conditions to flower to their full potential. Are you growing where you are right now? When it comes to your current job, ask yourself the same question The Clash sang in 1982: “should I stay or should I go?” Going back to school can help prepare you to enter a new field or give you the skills needed to advance in your current career track.

When it comes to the decision of moving on or staying put, ask yourself: Is your current role offering opportunities to learn or provide room for advancement? Would you like to earn more money? Are you interested in moving into a more specialized area in your field? Or do you want a work environment that’s more conducive to your personality and interests? Getting a sense of what you want from work is an important part of developing educational goals that align with your professional ambitions.

Personal Inventory

A little self-assessment goes a long way. Taking a personality inventory helps you understand what you want out of life and your major interests, strengths, and weaknesses.  This information can be used to guide your career goals. The Rio Salado College Career Services page offers a variety of assessment tools to get a deeper understanding of what motivates and drives you. Knowing where you land on the Myers-Briggs scale of personality types can tell you surprising aspects about yourself.

Self-assessments may clarify your communication style and preferred work style. Do you like working in a collaborative environment or prefer to work on your own? These tests can also highlight your soft skills—interpersonal, communication, and critical thinking skills that are applicable to a wide variety of industries and professional roles. 

Know The Requirements

Another crucial step for creating an effective academic plan for your career is to research the education requirements for your career path. What specific skills and/or qualifications do you need? Would getting a certificate put you ahead, or do you need an Associate or Bachelor’s to complete the moves you want to make?

Start Small Or Go Big?

Knowing where you want to be is one thing, but HOW to get there is where it gets complicated. If you’re looking to learn new skills and/or hone existing ones for your present career track, you may want to look into earning a certificate of completion or completing a micro-credential program. These programs are a much shorter time commitment than completing a two-year Associate's degree, and are often specifically oriented around job training. Micro-credentials in particular have become an in-demand commodity over the last few years.

Interested in transitioning into a new field? There are career training and pathway programs focused around teaching career-ready skills to prepare you to enter the workforce in fields as diverse as construction and nanotechnology. Check with your employer to see if there are tuition benefits or professional development opportunities to help cover the cost of your up-skilling.

Two-year and four-year degrees are a greater commitment but can help you earn a higher salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Associate degree holders see an almost 50% increase in earnings compared to individuals with a high school diploma. The BLS also notes that workers with certifications or credentials can expect to earn an average of 32.5% more than those without certification (percentage varies by occupation). Put the time in now and higher learning can pay off in the long run.

Incremental Achievements

If you’re unsure where to start with your education, consider that your class credits are transferable. Earn a micro-credential and those credits could cover some of the prerequisites to earn a two-year degree later. A two-year degree can be a stepping stone to a Bachelor’s degree down the line. You can complete short-term career training to progress sooner in your professional goals while laying the groundwork to complete bigger academic achievements that unlock new opportunities for you in the future.

Ask For Help

Much like setting a New Year’s resolution, it’s a lot easier to set a goal than it is to achieve one. Rio Salado College’s team of counselors and advisors can help you create a learning plan that harmonizes with your career goals and point you to resources that can help you succeed as a student and working professional. Rio also offers college and career success courses that provide more information on job hunting, career exploration, and strategies you can utilize to self-manage your academic progress.

Article by Austin Brietta

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