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Should I Go Back to School? 5 Things For Adults to Consider
Are you thinking about going back to school, but aren’t sure you have the time? Worried you’ll be the oldest in your class or won’t be able to keep up? Going back to school raises a lot of questions for many adults. These concerns are especially common for working professionals who will have to balance their career, personal life and education.
Let’s break down the major considerations for going back to school, so you can determine how to set yourself up for success.
3 Reasons Adults Go Back To College
Adult learners are one of the fastest growing cohorts in higher education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of people 35 and older who enroll in college will grow 20% by 2025. This outpaces the expected 13% increase in the number of 18-24 year olds enrolling during the same time period. So if you’re considering going back to school as a working professional—you’re in good company.
There isn’t a typical adult learner. People of all backgrounds, ages and genders go back to school. However, many of these professionals fall into three main categories: degree finishers, ladder climbers and career changers.
- Degree finishers may have started a degree, but never finished due to life circumstances. Or, they got their associate’s degree, but didn’t complete a bachelor’s degree. These professionals are looking to finish what they started to help them take the next step in their career.
- Ladder climbers may have reached a plateau in their career. They’re ready to advance—often looking at advanced degrees to make it happen. As industries and technology evolve, jobs do as well.
- Career changers might be looking at bachelor’s or master’s degrees as a route to a more rewarding career with better job prospects.
What do all of these professionals have in common? They want to make sure going back to school is a good investment and they’re set up for success. Here are five of the top questions you should ask yourself if you’re thinking about going back to school.
Heading back to school? Make sure you max out your Financial Aid with the help of this free FAFSA report.
Consideration #1: Do I Have the Right Motivations for Going Back to School?
If you’re going to invest in furthering your education, you want to make sure you identify why you want to go back to school. You need to have clarity on how you want your education to benefit you and your career.
For example, you may decide to go back to school because you want to:
- Make yourself more competitive for promotion opportunities and long-term career advancement.
- Increase your short-term pay and long-term salary expectations.
- Broaden and deepen your technical and interpersonal skill sets.
- Increase your job security by gaining in-demand knowledge.
- Achieve a lifetime credential that will give you personal fulfillment.
Being able to identify your motivations will help you set expectations for going back to school, as well as put yourself on the right path when continuing your education.
Consideration #2: Do I Have Time to Complete a Degree?
Consideration #2: Do I Have Time to Complete a Degree?
If you’re a working professional who plans to go to school while continuing to work, you need to ensure you have enough time to be successful.
When taking a class, you should expect to commit 10–20 hours per week to your coursework. Depending on the level of class and your personal aptitude for the subject matter, it could be a little more or less.
One of the best ways to ensure you can dedicate the appropriate time to school is by choosing a program that’s designed to have a balanced curriculum. This approach spreads the curriculum evenly across the length of the course. That way, you have approximately the same amount of work each week, rather than having the peaks and valleys you find in traditional courses.
Consideration #3: Can I Afford to Go Back to School?
When considering the cost of going back to school you should also make sure you take advantage of all financial aid and resources available.
Always—no matter what degree level or institution—submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This application automatically qualifies you for federal student aid, including grants and lower-rate loans. Many schools also use the FAFSA for determining eligibility for institutional scholarships and grants.
You should also research additional scholarship opportunities through the school or degree program, professional organizations and even nonprofits.
The cost of a degree varies widely depending on factors like institution type, tuition and fees, as well as credit hour requirements and time to graduation. All of these factors are important to consider, but even more so, you should evaluate the overall value of a degree when determining if you should go back to school.
When determining if the value is worth it, be sure to ask yourself:
- How will this degree impact my short- and long-term salary expectations?
- Will this degree improve my chances for advancement over the course of my career?
- Will the skills I gain make me an invaluable asset to an organization and increase my job security?
- How long will it take me to pay off any student debt I may accumulate? How does this amount compare to my expected salary or long-term earnings?
Determining the value of a degree can be more difficult than identifying strict costs.Take your time, and answer these questions honestly for yourself.
Consideration #4: Do I Know What Degree I Need to Reach My Career Goals?
For many individuals considering going back to school, choosing the right degree is a crucial decision.
For professionals without a degree, you have to start at the bachelor’s level. There are many types of bachelor’s degrees to choose from. For working professionals who want job-ready skills, it’s important to look for a bachelor’s degree that combines strong foundational skills with specialized knowledge in your chosen field.
If you already earned your bachelor’s degree, do you get your master’s degree and stop there? Or, do you continue on for a doctorate after completing your master’s degree? A master’s degree focuses on deep specialization and technical skills, while a doctorate is dedicated to original research and knowledge. A master’s degree is designed to help you reach senior leadership positions. On the other hand, a doctorate can either open the door to executive positions or professorships at universities.
A degree is a lifetime investment, so make sure you contemplate both short- and long-term goals before making your decision.
Consideration #5: Am I Truly Passionate About the Subject Matter I Plan to Study?
When it comes down to it, your success as a student may come down to how invested you are in your studies. One of the ways to make sure you set yourself up for success is to choose a subject you’re passionate about.
But how do you separate what you think you enjoy and what you know you want to pursue as a career?