The Realities of Going Back to School
Going back to school can be a scary proposition, but also one that offers adult learners a great experience and career rewards. But, consider carefully the ramifications before making the leap.
When you're young, school is one of your main focuses in life, and you most likely have the time to devote to being a full-time student. But if you never finished college, or if you simply want to take your education to a higher level, the way you approach the realities of being a student will be vastly different. Returning to college can be a big decision. You probably have many valid concerns about how to fit school into your adult life, which is filled with priorities you didn't have before, like work and family. The questions that most people ask themselves — When is the right time? How long will it take? How do I pay for school? What kind of career will it allow me to pursue? — don't have one definitive answer for everyone. But there are many universal issues for potential adult students to consider.
1. The Advantages
Does acquiring more education increase your yearly salary? Almost always. In fact, you could make double what you make now, if not more, as long as you major in an area that fits your skills and where the job market is relatively stable or growing. While that is undoubtedly the biggest advantage of going back to school, there can be other advantages as well. You might enjoy school much more now that you're an adult and take it more seriously, because you are attending on your own terms and you know exactly what you want to achieve. Some adult students worry that they have been away from the classroom too long to be able to keep up, but in actuality, studies show that students over 25 make better grades than their classmates of a more traditional college age. Not only do adults listen more closely to instructors and advisors, they also try harder, because they know the true value of their education.
2. The Disadvantages
If you decide to go back to college, you should know right away that you won't be able to do everything you once did — which can involve sacrificing social and family time in favor of school and work. Working full time and pursuing school simultaneously can be incredibly difficult, depending on your job and financial situation. For this reason, you will likely be unable to go to school full time, and it might take you longer to finish. The other major disadvantage is cost. Although you probably understand more than ever how much you have to gain financially from a college education, you can still face struggles when it comes to finding available grant money and taking on more debt. Many people still have debt from their previous time at college, which can make accumulating more seem even less appealing.
3. Strategies for Success
Before you go back to school, you need to have a realistic plan for when, how, and why. Talk to admissions advisors about your situation. Many schools, as well as the best online colleges, are designed to work around the busy schedules of working adults and make continuing your education possible. The high price of college coupled with the growing necessity for higher education is creating more adult students than ever, which means there are a number of options. Some employers even often tuition reimbursement. If you have concerns about your family life, look into campus childcare programs and once-a-week night classes. It may seem overwhelming, but researching schools and forming a solid financial plan are the top things you can do to ensure your success.
4. Will You Fit Into the College Environment?
Many adults are afraid they won't be comfortable in a classroom with students who could potentially be half their age. The college environment will seem quite different to you once you have spent a period of time in the real world. The good news is that going back to school is more common than it used to be, and it's likely that there will be people in your classes who are older than you. If you find yourself feeling out of place, online education has become more prominent even at traditional colleges, and that could be another advantage of learning at home. And another advantage of being an older student is that you are less distracted by the social aspects of college, so you won't lose focus on the fact that you are in school to learn.
No one could ever argue that going back to school is easy, but the rewards are often well-worth the trouble. If you are returning to school for the right reasons, namely to provide for your family and to achieve greater career success, then the sacrifices you have to make will be worth it in the end.
Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 (Flickr)/401(K) 2012
Amie Gottschalk is an avid blogger. You can follow her on Twitter @amiegottschalk.
Copyright © Amie Gottschalk. Used with permission.