Going back to school as an adult is a large undertaking. Know what you should consider before choosing your school and degree options.
You don’t have to give up on school once you hit adulthood. If you want to change careers, earn more money, or just feel like you have a void to fill, going back to school can be a great option. Today you have many options including community college, 4-year schools, and even online college – and you may be eligible for a grant or scholarship.
Check out the things you should consider before going back to school.
What’s the Cost?
Cost should be at the top of your list because let’s face it, college is expensive. Fortunately, help is available, but consider the overall cost especially if you’ll have to work less or not at all in order to achieve your degree. While you can take out student loans, they get costly and feel like they haunt you for a long time after graduating. Before you take out loans consider the following options:
- Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This isn’t just for undergrads and there’s no age limit. Discuss your options with your intended schools’ financial aid office to learn your options.
- Look for grants. Many companies and government agencies offer grants for certain careers, age groups, and demographics. Grants are free money, so apply for as many as you can.
- Look for scholarships. Don’t think just because you aren’t the star quarterback on the high school football team that there aren’t scholarships available.
- Ask your employer about tuition assistance. Many employers pay for some or all of college tuition, especially if your education will benefit the company in the long run.
What’s the Time Commitment?
Give careful consideration to the workload you take. Can you handle it? If you have a family with small children or you work full-time, you’ll have to get creative with your time. You’ll choose between full-time and part-time enrollment. Full-time gets you the degree or certificate faster but requires more commitment in the short-term. Part-time takes longer to achieve your goals but allows you to have more time to focus on other areas of your life. Consider the following:
- What does the program require? Certain programs only allow full-time students.
- Do you work full-time? Working full-time while enrolled full-time in school can be difficult. If your courses relate to your current job, it may be an act you can juggle, but consider it carefully.
- How fast do you need results? Think about the reasons you are going back to school. Are you trying to get a raise, get a promotion, or just further your education for a new potential job career? The faster you need results, the more important it is to enroll full-time.
Which School Should you Choose?
Now that you know why you want to go back to school, next you have to choose where you go. You have many options including in-person and online college courses. Think about the logistics. Do you have the time to attend courses during the day or after work? Will you stay committed and have good attendance? If not, are you driven enough to stay on track with online courses that require independent work or are you a procrastinator?
The degree you want to pursue will play a role. An associate degree or certificate can be obtained at your local community college. If you want a bachelor degree or higher though, you’ll need to choose a higher level university either in person or online.
Of course, a large part in your program decision is the cost. Will you pay for the schooling yourself, get a loan or rely on grants/scholarships? Don’t choose a school that you can’t afford and that will leave you in over your head in debt for more years than you can fathom.
How to Choose Between a Degree and a Certificate
What are your goals? Breaking into an entirely new career may require a new degree. If you just want to further your knowledge at your current job, a certificate may suffice.
Consider the following:
- Do you have a specific career in mind? A certified program may be the answer. You’ll receive specific training for your job, such as an electrician or plumber.
- Are you just exploring your options? Consider a certificate rather than a degree. While you won’t earn college credits, the courses are more laid-back, giving you time to explore your options and make choices.
- Do you want to earn a degree? Whether you need a bachelor degree or you want to further your education and earning potential with an advanced degree, you’ll need to dedicate two, four, or even a greater number of years to your education.
What Will Returning to School do For You?
The real question you need to ask yourself is how school will benefit you. Are you just playing with ideas of changing careers or just obtaining a better education? If so, you can be more relaxed in your choices and take the slow track.
If, on the other hand, you have a specific program in mind or you know your degree will boost your earning power, you may want the fast track. Talk with students that have completed the program or with the school’s career office. Ask how the degree may or may not help you achieve your goals. Also, talk with your employer if your schooling will help your current career. Look at your boss’s path – how did he/she get to that career high? These answers will help you determine if returning to school will have the benefits you think it will.
As an adult, you have more aspects to consider before going back to school. Time, money, location, and even the end result should play a role. Think about the end result. If you want a new career, higher income, or just more knowledge of your current field, going back to school can be a great choice whether you choose an online or in-person course.