Deciding When to Invest in Continuing Education

A theme among highly successful people is that they make significant financial investments in self-development. They understand that investing in education, coaching, or their own business, combined with their intentions and work ethic, can produce exponential returns.

It’s important to look at continuing education opportunities in terms of the ROI they offer. It’s also important to remember that returns come in the form of relationships and personal fulfillment as well as earnings. Whether it be certifications, courses, programs, etc., the price could range anywhere from $250 to $15,000, and potentially much higher. It’s important to consider all the variables involved instead of focusing solely on the price tag.

Below are some of the most important factors to consider when deciding which programs, courses, and certifications to pursue.

How do you plan to make your investment back and how long will it take?

Most of the time, the course/program/certification we are considering will not result in an automatic increase in income upon completion. If it does, awesome! Regardless, it’s important to understand what you can expect after the learning journey is complete.

Questions to consider:
Are there any guarantees?
Do they support you after the program?
How long do you have access to the materials?
What are the results of past participants?
Can you expect to secure a job, or land clients after the program?

Will you automatically be qualified to work in a certain field?

Some programs do have a very specific track to move you forward professionally and increase your income. For example, at The Flatiron School students invest in an intensive coding program with the intention of landing an entry-level software engineering job, with an average starting salary of $67,000. The entire process requires a serious work ethic, but if the key ingredients are aligned (passion, skill, etc.) this program has a high probability of helping you find employment within six months of graduation.

Other avenues such as certification programs rarely offer specific outcomes. You will need to know how you plan to attract clients or if the certification will be enough to secure a particular position within an organization. If you are taking the program with plans to start a business afterward, understand this is an entirely separate venture and requires skills that go beyond the continuing education, such as marketing, sales, finance, etc.

WHO will you be exposed to and how much interaction will you have?

This is one of the most critical components to choosing any form of continuing education. Consider that ONE new relationship and resulting opportunity could easily 5x or 20x your investment in the program.

Understand the type of people you will come into contact through the program, such as instructors, participants, or guest presenters. A higher cost program tends to attract high-performing individuals who also have more money, resources, and influential contacts. Building relationships with these people can expose you to an unlimited number of opportunities.

Aside from the price tag, it’s important to understand the nature of the program. This will make a difference in the type of people it attracts. Is it focused more on self-help or education? Is it tailored to executives, entrepreneurs, HR folks, Millennials, techies, etc.?

The other key component is how much you will be able to interact with instructors and participants in the program.

Questions to consider:
Will you have access to 1:1 time with the instructor outside of lessons?
How much of the content is delivered live vs recording?
Will you be paired up with participants or assigned groups during the program?
How much time will you be together?
Will you be stuck with one person or exposed to a variety of folks?


In order to develop relationships, you will need both structured and unstructured time to meet with others. I cannot stress the importance of this factor enough. Out of all the programs and courses I’ve taken, the relationships I made were the biggest value, hands down.

How much time will this education save you (and what is your time worth)?

The course or program you’re considering is probably not the ONLY place you can get that information. You may very well be able to learn that specialized skill or knowledge on your own. Still, the cost of the program will make sense if it saves you an enormous amount of time that would otherwise be spent trying to figure it out (not to mention the headaches, frustration, and confusion).

You also must consider what your time is worth. If you are making $15/hour, does it make sense to hire a web developer for $50/hour when you could invest the time to learn how to set up a simple website on your own? On the other hand, what’s the size of your project and how much time would it take you to even formulate your own learning journey? It may take your web developer one hour to complete something that would take you 5+ hours!

Why are you doing this? Notice your impulses.

A strong, impulsive desire to sign up for a course or program can be a signal that you are looking for a quick fix. Maybe you see this as THE way to make a career change and get you out of a dead-end job. Or, maybe you see it as THE way to get clients for your business, so you can finally make a living with your side hustle. In the end, it’s important to remember there is no ONE way, and the ultimate difference maker will come from within. If you find yourself believing something is the only option, take a step back to explore why you think that is the case.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions of yourself and the individuals responsible for delivering the educational opportunity you’re considering.

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