Furthering your education in order to improve your chances of having your dream job is a common aspiration for many. In fact, over 20 million people were expected to attend American colleges and universities for the fall 2015 term, with about 60% of them being over the age of 24.

But what you want to do, and what it takes to do it, might not always match up. That’s why it is important to pick the post-secondary option that not only fits your future, but your present as well, including your budget, time restraints, and career goals.

So, what post-secondary education is right for you? Follow along and find out in this post.

Where Should I go for Post-Secondary?

You probably know that there are a few different types of schools for you to choose from, each of which offers a different type of education based on your career interests. The four most popular types of schools include polytechnics, community colleges, liberal arts colleges, and universities.


A polytechnic school focuses in on things like industrial arts, applied science, technology, and engineering. They generally combine both in-class education and field experience, and offer varying levels of certification depending on which program you are interested in.

Community College

A community college provides a variety of certifications and technical degrees for trades (think first-year electrician or medical office administrator), as well as GEDs and remedial courses. Community college programs generally range from 1-2 years long, and are often less costly than other post-secondary options.

They also offer both part- and full-time options, which can be beneficial for those who have jobs or families.

Liberal Arts College

Liberal arts colleges concentrate on liberal arts and sciences, most only offering undergraduate degrees. The focus of a liberal arts college is to give students a broad understanding of a variety of subjects within liberal arts and sciences, while also allowing them to major in a particular field.

Liberal arts colleges usually have smaller class sizes compared to universities, and are less research focused. Generally, because of smaller class size and more emphasis on student learning, students who attend liberal arts colleges have higher satisfaction in the amount of support they receive than their university counterparts.


Perhaps the most commonly known, and most popular of the four main types of post-secondary schools, are universities. Universities are the largest of the four, offering a variety of diplomas, degrees, and subjects for students to explore.

The most common degree being a Bachelor’s Degree, which students can complete within approximately 3-4 years of full-time attendance.

It should be noted that universities are generally the most expensive in terms of tuition and living costs, making a 4 year commitment unattainable for some.

Certificates, Diplomas, and Degrees

After considering what you are interested in, you need to figure out what your personal and financial limitations are compared to your career goals.

For example, can you afford to go back to school for 4 years, or do you want to? Would you prefer a degree or a diploma? Would a certificate be enough to get you to where you want to be?

How much time you want to put into your post-secondary education, and how much money you are willing to invest in it, can affect what kind of paper you receive when you are done.


A certificate is generally a year or less worth of education, and provides you with a concentrated education in something specific. For example, you could take a Publishing Certificate Program, which would allow you to potentially get a position with a publishing house, if that’s what you want to do.

Because these programs are usually about a year long, they are often less expensive than other options.

Certificate programs can be taken at many universities and colleges, and are sometimes offered as an addition to a degree.


A diploma program is usually about 2 years long, and like a certificate, specializes in a specific area. Sometimes, credits earned through a diploma can be transferred to a degree later on, giving you the option to either take the 2 year program and be on your way, or to upgrade in the future without having to worry about starting from square one.

Sometimes, if you are employed in a profession relevant to your diploma, the employer may have funding options available for employees who wish to upgrade their education in that field, so don’t forget to check with your HR representative.


A degree begins with either a 3 or 4 year long degree program. These are mostly available at universities, and offer a generalized education within a certain field.

There are varying types of degrees, from Bachelor’s Degrees to Master’s Degrees. Depending on your career choice, you may have to go all the way to a PhD—the highest level of education that you can receive.

This type of education is offered by universities, and because of the significant time investment, it is generally considered to be the most costly (barring private schools).

Making a School and Life Balance

For those who aspire to return to school after time away, one of the biggest difficulties to overcome can be how to find a balance between the life you have built and the program you want to enroll in.

Many people have jobs, families, or other financial commitments to adhere to, and both the time and financial investments for school can be demanding.

But with a world that has become more accessible through technology comes the benefit of having post-secondary institutions changing the way that they reach their students. So, what are your options?

Full-time. Whether you just want to power through school, or you are taking a shorter program, sometimes getting it done all at once is the easiest way to go. Even full-time studies can still allow for part-time employment, and even if your program is more than a year long, you can work and save in the summer.

Part-time. Some students just want to upgrade their previous education, or they already have a job or family that they need to devote significant time to. That’s when part-time studies can be beneficial. Many schools, no matter the type, offer evening courses that can be credited towards certificates, degrees, or diplomas.

On campus. Attending classes on campus is the most common way students receive their education. Some students require the structure of having instructors guide them through a program on a consistent basis, which a solid schedule and face-time with classmates and professors can offer. It also offers the benefits of participating in school activities, collaborating in-person on group projects, and meeting new people.

Online. While on-campus education is the most popular way to up your skills, online courses and programs are quickly beginning to thrive in a technology-friendly world. These allow students from all over the world to go to schools in other countries, and to take courses or programs that may not be available where they live.

They also provide more flexible schedules, but require much more self-motivation.

Education Meets Career

While it takes much more than just an education to become an expert in your field, post-secondary knowledge can help you to get your foot in the door. Employers value education, and by taking even a short course or program, you can open up a whole world of new career opportunities that weren’t available to you before.

Just remember to find the right school and program to suit your life now, and the one you want to have in the future so that you can be sure to maximize your potential and get the most out of your post-secondary education.

Are you thinking about going back to school to further your career?

Posted by Brittany Foster

Brittany is a writer, editor, and content manager interested in law, marketing, and technology. She's been writing for LawDepot since 2014.