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Debating if going back to college as an adult is a wise investment or a waste of time?

Written by Ashworth College on Wednesday, 27 December 2017. Posted in Career

Debating if going back to college as an adult is a wise investment or a waste of time?

At some point in time in most every working adult's life, they've wondered, is going back to college worth it? It may be that they're looking for a promotion or raise at work. Or perhaps they've realized their dream career is in another field. Maybe it's that they want the satisfaction of finally earning the college degree they never finished. If these feelings sound familiar, then you might be asking yourself that same question: When it comes to college, is it a wise investment or a waste of time? 

It's not an easy answer. But considering carefully the industry you are in (or want to be in), your employer, and the skills you want to learn is a good place to start.

The industry

Every industry values education differently. Finding out as much about your current industry or the one you want to switch to can provide excellent information. Remember to consider what the industry is like now, as well as where it's going. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook is a great place to start. 

The employer

Looking to stay with your current company? Make sure going back to school will help you get ahead. Having an honest conversation with your employer about your goals and what will help you reach them can help you decide if college is the right choice.

The skills

The type of skills you need to learn can help tell you whether or not you should go back to college, and what type of program you need. Are you training for an entirely new field? Looking to learn additional skills to help you advance in your current role? Or, are you brushing up on the basics after being out of the workforce for awhile? Thinking about these questions can help you decide what path is right for you.

Still can't decide? These 6 numbers can help

Beyond these key factors, there are hard data points that can help. Several research studies focus on whether or not a college education is a good investment. Here are six numbers from those studies that can help you decide whether college is worth your time, money and effort.


According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 8.1 million college students over the age of 25 enrolled in college in 2015. That's about 41% of all students enrolled in college that same year! The largest grouping of adult students were those over the age of 35. This trend of adults going back to college signals that the decision is one worth considering no matter your age.


As reported by the Associated Press, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) says the earning gap between high school graduates and college graduates is widening. According to EPI, college graduates typically earn 56% more than high school graduates.


Measuring the worth of a college education on increased income alone can give you an incomplete picture. Income, even among people with the same level of education, can depend on the industry, job and geographic location. Plus, as the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) points out, gender, race and ethnicity play factors as well. Still, the CEW reported that over a lifetime a bachelor's degree is worth $2.8 million in earnings. 


However, having a good job does not necessitate having a bachelor's degree. Another report from CEW found there are 30 million "good jobs" that do not require a bachelor's degree. These are positions that are commonly known as middle-skill or skilled service jobs and require some college, such as an associate degree.


The average college graduate leaves school with $34,000 in student debt! That's what analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found. How to pay for tuition is obviously a big choice for all students, but especially adult college students since they often have families to care for and may continue to work while pursuing an education. But, taking out student loans is not the only option. Following a strict budget, finding scholarships, searching for a flexible program that allows you to work while going to school, and research into affordable payment plans are all ways to pay for school without student loans. 


When it comes to deciding whether college is worth it, it helps to talk to people who've been there. That's exactly what the Pew Center for Research did, and they found that 62% of college alumni feel their time in college was “Very useful in helping them grow personally and intellectually.” On top of those responses, 53% said college was helpful in receiving job opportunities and 49% said college helped them develop skills and knowledge they use at work.

No matter what you decide, preparing to go back to college is a personal choice. Think it overand be sure to define success beyond just increased income. There's a lot to be gained fromcollege that can improve everything you do!

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