Should You Go Back to School? 7 Things to Consider

Going back to school, whether online or in-person, is a huge achievement. But the sheer volume of options can be overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to do your research and think through your choices.

Should I go back to school? 5 Questions to consider

It’s not uncommon to reach a point in your career when you realize your current qualifications aren’t quite enough to help you accomplish your professional goals. Maybe you’re eyeing a promotion with your current organization, or you’ve set your sights on something completely new. Now you’re left wondering, “Should I go back to school?”

Enrolling in a degree program today takes a lot more consideration than it did back when you were 18. There are likely a handful of additional factors to keep in mind before you go all in and commit to heading back to college — if you have a family, if you have a looming mortgage payment or if you hope to continue working full time while you study.

You’re certainly not alone. Anyone who’s been in your position before will tell you how complicated this decision-making process can be. That’s why we’ve compiled five questions adult students should ask before deciding to continue their education. See whether your answers to them can help shed some light on whether to go back to school.

5 Questions to ask yourself before going back to school as an adult

1. What are my career goals?

One of the very first things you should do as you contemplate a return to the college classroom is evaluate what your ultimate career goals are. Then, you can ask yourself whether those aspirations can be accomplished with your current educational qualifications.

If you’re currently working in an industry you enjoy, consider meeting with your manager and asking about your future with the organization. Knowing what he or she expects from you in a position you’re hoping to land could give you a clear idea of what your next steps should be.

2. Do I have time to complete a degree program?

As a working professional who may have a family, your weeks are already full of nonnegotiable commitments. Before you start a college or graduate school course load, you should make sure you’ll be able to balance it with the everyday demands of your life.

The great news for busy adults like you is that you’re not far outside the typical college demographics. Today’s average undergraduate college student is changing. Nontraditional students — those who are older than 25, financially independent from their parents and/or working full time while in school — are becoming the norm . Higher education institutions have responded by making degree program formats more flexible than ever.

Graduate and undergraduate students have the option to earn some degrees entirely online. Other degree programs may be offered in a hybrid format, allowing students the flexibility of online learning while also providing some opportunities for face-to-face instruction.

There’s even a new option in the higher education scene: competency-based education (CBE) programs. These online, self-paced programs allow students to move more quickly through their courses if they’ve mastered the material. The subscription tuition model CBE programs like the one at University of Massachusetts Global utilize allow students to pay a flat fee for a certain number of weeks spent in the program. During that time, you can complete as much or as little coursework as you’d like.

3. Can I afford to go back to school?

Flexible, self-paced programs can also help make higher education more affordable. But enrolling in a CBE program isn’t the only way to make going back to school financially feasible. If you’re worried about the cost of continuing your education, there are a number of things you could consider.

As you begin mapping out ways to pay for school, you might speak with your employer about possible financial support. More and more organizations are beginning to offer tuition assistance programs. Investing the newfound skills and expertise you gain from advancing your education into a new position within your existing company can benefit both you and your employer.

If you’re starting a bachelor’s degree from scratch, it’s not a bad idea to save money by beginning at a community college before transferring to a four-year institution. If you’ve already earned your undergraduate degree, you could also look into non-degree opportunities for advancement. Options range from certificates and courses to credentials and authorizations.

4. Will going back to school pay off in the long run?

Upfront cost aside, you’re probably wondering about the potential return on investment (ROI) you’ll see from such a lofty commitment. It can feel impossible to determine whether college will be worth it for you, but there are some statistics out there that can give you a clearer idea of what to expect.

A Gallup and Purdue University survey concluded the vast majority of college graduates think their education was worth the cost. In fact, only 4 percent strongly disagreed. It’s also true that adults with a high school diploma see an unemployment rate that is nearly double that of bachelor’s degree-holders.

We used real-time job analysis software to examine nearly 16 million job postings from the past year, and found that those with a bachelor’s degree qualified for more than twice as many job opportunities than those with just a high school diploma.* Add a master’s degree into the mix, and candidates would qualify for an additional 700,000 jobs.

While your specific earnings after advancing your education will be dependent on factors like your industry and geographic location, it’s helpful to note that data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that a person’s salary potential increases as they obtain additional education.

5. How do I know which college is right for me?

Knowing how to choose the best college for your lifestyle needs and career goals can be one of the more complicated questions you’ll have to address. Case in point: A National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report reveals that more than one-third of college students transfer schools before completing their degrees — sometimes more than once.

4 Reasons Why Getting Your Degree at 30 is a Great Idea

graphic describing 4 reasons why getting your degree at 30 is a great idea

One of the benefits of going back to school in your 30s is the on-the-job experience you’ve amassed over the past 12+ years. You’re at an advantage compared to students who have nothing on their résumé. Why? You’ve had time to learn what you enjoy doing, what you don’t like, what you’re good at, and where your greatest areas for improvement are.

You may want more thorough, in-depth knowledge of a subject. Or maybe there’s a particular skill missing from your professional toolbox. Whether it’s detailed focus of a general field or a very specific skill set, not having this knowledge can hold you back from growing professionally.

Or maybe there’s something you’ve always wanted to learn (for the sake of learning). Many people choose to finish their studies for personal development alone. Always wanted to master a second language or learn more about financial planning? Go for it!

Speaking of on-the-job experience, another fabulous benefit of going back to school a bit later in life is your developed sense of direction. Oftentimes, students in their 20s are unsure about what they want to study. Or they receive a degree and later realize that working in that field is not what they thought it would be.

Good news! If you’re ready for a career change, you have an advantage over less mature college students due to your previous employment experiences. What you’ve learned on-the-job—your understanding of what you want (and don’t want)—means you’re more confident and focused on the goals ahead.

When it comes to paying for school, grants are among your best options. But do you know how to find them? Remove the guesswork by downloading this free guide.

Sometimes adults return back to a college degree program, not because they don’t enjoy their job, but because they aren’t earning the money they’d like to. Completing your bachelor’s degree can oftentimes directly result in a salary increase. According to a study conducted by The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, finishing your degree can get you on the track for a promotion, earning 46 percent more than those who have some college work, but no degree.

A college degree shows employers that you’re motivated, improving upon your writing and research skills, and that you’re driven to learn on (and off) the job. In turn, those who complete their studies may see:

While it’s not typically the sole reason why people go back to college in their 30s, many find that furthering their education helps extend their professional network. Heading back to class can expose you to new up-and-comers, seasoned professionals (think professors, speakers from lectures, and industry specialists), and a group of like-minded college alumni.

Returning to college to seek mentorship and meet colleagues who are passionate about your industry of choice is a great way to organically grow your career. It also exposes you to new trends, publications, data and methods of learning and disseminating information. In turn, this work will be directly applicable to the ever-changing workforce, keeping you relevant and connected.


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