Many returning students worry that maintaining their employment during school would detract from their studies and so they prefer not to work. In fact, it’s not uncommon to leave a job to return to school, but leaving can mean either taking a leave of absence (if your employer allows it) or quitting outright. Giving your two week’s notice is easy, but planning a leave of absence is more complicated. Have a word with your supervisor and the human resources department if you’re hoping to complete your education before returning to your current job.


How do companies feel about employees who ask for time off to attend school?

There are many companies that will be happy to work with you because your education also has a direct effect on your job performance. The company, therefore, will reap the rewards of your studies, and you may experience a pay raise. In fact, some companies offer educational benefits and scholarships to their employees to encourage them to go back to school.

Other companies, however, may be less interested in working with you and will make you choose between work and school. You can also, of course, quit your job to attend school full-time, but there is no guarantee that your employer will take you back once you graduate.

What are the benefits of taking time away from my job to go back to school?

The benefits of taking a leave of absence or quitting your job to return to school include having more time to study and spend with your family. Furthering your education also may lead to better opportunities in the future. If you do not stay with your current employer, another might be impressed with your past work experience and your degree or certificate. Your résumé may naturally expand as a result of your education, and you may be offered internships or temporary positions while you are studying. It is also possible that your current manager has recognized your potential and will offer encouragement or the promise of a job in the future (but it is not a guarantee).

Job security and income typically increase as you become more educated. For instance, the unemployment rate as of 2016 for individuals with a high school diploma was 5.2%, while for individuals with a bachelor’s degree, it was 2.7%. Likewise, high school graduates earn an average of $692 weekly, while individuals with bachelor’s degrees earn $1,156 weekly. The trend is the same for all education levels: The highest unemployment rates and lowest weekly earnings are for demographics with the lowest levels of education. Returning or going to college, therefore, can make a significant difference in your income and quality of life.

What are the downsides of leaving my job to further my education?

Leaving your job to pursue your education is not without its challenges. School can be expensive, even if you qualify for financial aid, and by leaving your job, you are already taking an incredible pay cut. Taking out loans or having a spouse who works or another source of income will be necessary if you hope to maintain your current standard of living.

If you leave your job to further your education, it only makes sense to enroll as a full-time student. Taking classes part-time usually isn’t enough to justify a complete lapse in employment. Future employers may look at gaps in your résumé and wonder what you were doing during that time. If you want to take classes only part-time, it makes more sense to reduce your work hours than to leave your job altogether. It should be noted that taking classes part-time will extend the amount of time you spend in school and may make you ineligible for your full financial aid offer.

It’s also important to consider that the job market and economy are always changing. You may find it more difficult to find a job after you finish school than before you began.

If I’m interested in leaving my job to go back to school, where do I start?

  • Know what type of credential you need:
    • Certifications and licenses are given to professionals who can pass an exam in their fields.
    • Certificates take up to two years to earn.
    • Associate’s degrees take two years to earn.
    • Bachelor’s degrees take four years to earn.
    • Master’s degrees take two years beyond a bachelor’s degree to earn.
    • Doctoral degrees can take more than three years beyond a bachelor’s degree to earn.
  • Narrow down your list of schools based on the credential you need. Certifications, licenses, certificates, and associate’s degrees can often be earned at community colleges or vocational schools. Bachelor’s degrees are offered by liberal arts colleges, research universities, and online institutions. Typically, for education beyond a bachelor’s degree, you will need to attend a research university.
  • Ask your company’s human resource representative if there are any educational opportunities available through your place of work (such as tuition assistance) or if they grant leaves of absence to employees who want to further their education. If so, that’s great! Take advantage of the benefits that are offered.
  • Give at least two week’s notice if you leave your job to pursue educational opportunities. Leave on good terms. This is especially important if you need a recommendation or hope to return to the same company in the future.
  • Plan for the future:
    • Will you return to your current company at a later date?
    • Where do you hope to find employment in the future?
    • How will you pay for school?
    • How long will you be out of work while you pursue your education?
  • Ask for advice. Find coworkers or friends who’ve left their jobs for school and ask them about their experiences. If any colleagues have gone back to school, reach out and discuss your intentions. What resources did they use and what were their programs like? What do they wish they knew back then?
  • Look for volunteer programs, job opportunities, or internships that can enhance your experience with your program. A résumé boost is never a bad thing, if you have the time. Visit your prospective college’s website and the career office for more information.
  • Find out if your state requires continuing education to maintain the credential you earn (this is often the case with a license or certificate). Speak with your future employer to determine if this education will be on your own time and dime or theirs. Research state requirements and calculate the annual cost of renewing your credential.

Job security and a higher paycheck can be influential when you are considering more education. Remember, though, that if you quit your job to return to school, it may not be waiting for you when you are ready to go back. Maintain a résumé that shows all you have to offer and reach out to new companies (and companies you’ve previously worked for) while you are still in school for summer or part-time opportunities. These can turn into full-time positions once you have credentials in hand.

Page last updated: 07/2017