Whether you’ve had some undergraduate experience or have already earned a degree and started your career, returning to school as an adult is an empowering decision. The choice to continue your higher education is a personal one, but it’s not one you are navigating alone: according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 40 percent of all college students are over the age of 25.
When thinking about returning to school, take the time to recognize where you stand, where you want to go, and what it takes to get there. To help, we’ve provided answers to four common questions with our insights on where to start when going back to school.
Although there’s no simple answer for everyone, this is the most important question during the process of returning to school. Whether you’re looking to increase your earning potential or simply build your knowledge within a subject or field, higher education offers unlimited potential in helping you grow along your life journey.
If you were wondering about your financial future and earning potential with a college degree, there’s good news: according to a report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, college graduates earn 84 percent more than high school graduates, earning around one million dollars more throughout their careers than people who stopped their education with a high school diploma.
Understanding what type of education will help you reach your goals is a big part of determining whether going to school as an adult is worth it. There are many options available whether you want to stay in the same career path or switch completely. Carefully evaluate the differences between associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs. And, remember there are also certificates and other short-term programs that may be just as valuable in your career.
If you’re switching careers, be sure you can make the case for why you want to make this move, to yourself and to your future employer in an interview setting. When thinking about further schooling to jump-start this career change, speak with industry friends or peers about the extent to which college degrees and certifications are valued. This will help you better understand your target industry and hopefully validate your reasons for switching careers.
Taking the time to review – or make – your budget and do some forecasting is crucial. You may choose to meet with a financial advisor or strategize on your own or with family. These steps will help you think through your options for paying for college while balancing other financial responsibilities.
The good news is paying for college without taking on student loans is possible. Don’t assume your income or age at this stage in your life takes you out of the running for financial assistance. Conduct some research online and leave no stone unturned! Scholarships from local civic organizations or religious institutions are also great opportunities to investigate.
If you’re currently in the workforce, you may consider asking your employer for assistance with your tuition. Tuition assistance programs vary from employer to employer. Some programs will reimburse an employee for their full tuition amount and some will cover only a portion. There can also be stipulations about how long an employee must stay at a company if tuition costs are covered. Check with your employer to gather all the details.
With family, work, or any other responsibilities that demand your attention, you’ll need to determine how college fits into your life – or how the rest of your time fits around school. Fortunately, modern higher education offers an increasing amount of options for pursuing degrees. Online college can be a flexible option for adult learners that allows them to schedule their classes and studies around the rest of their day, not the other way around.
Think outside of your immediate community and consider how the rise in technology has opened (virtual) doors for communication through computers. Students looking for college education aren’t limited by the options in their backyard, neighboring area or through other countries. Whether you take an on-campus or online approach to going back to school, time management will be crucial to your success.
This will depend on the institution you’re joining. Most schools will place a credit limit on the maximum number of previously-accumulated credits as well as the age of credits that you can apply to the new institution. One thing you’ll definitely need is an open line of communication with the previous college(s) where you earned credits.
Another important piece of transfer credits is exploring whether your workforce experience can be leveraged into college credits with your next institution. More and more colleges and universities allow students to capitalize on their career experience and other skills for course credits.
Passing tests from the College Level Examination Program is another avenue for earning college credits. If you’re currently working for a large company that has a “Corporate U” offering, some of these types of courses are accredited. This is another transfer credit option that could save you money. Be sure to look into the school you’re targeting to learn all about transfer credit options.
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