by Tara Puckey
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 9.6 million older students are expected to head to campus by 2020. In 2009, more than 40 percent of all college and graduate students were aged 25 or older. Bottom line, if you’re thinking about returning to school, you’re not alone. But, heading back to the classroom isn’t an easy decision and there’s much more at stake as an adult learner than for those just out of high school.
Asking the right questions and taking time to weigh important factors are both critical steps in deciding if it’s the right move to be a student again.
Will this degree or certification pay for itself?
An education can be expensive, even with scholarships, grants or tuition assistance. The money is coming from somewhere, so making sure you’ll get a reasonable return is an important consideration. Will it allow you to move up in your current job? Or, if you’re looking to change careers, are there available jobs that fit your degree and is the pay something that allows you to be financially stable?
Make sure you’re looking ahead, well past graduation, to ensure that the education program you’re considering will add to your bottom line in some way.
Why do you want this education?
Not setting realistic expectations is one of the easiest ways to find disappointment, or create a situation where you’ll want to quit at some point during your degree program. Make a list of reasons you’re interested in this field, what you want to get out of your education and reasons that this specific program will help you achieve goals for your future.
If your list is short, it’s probably a good idea to explore a different program, an overall career move or another way you can get to where you want to go.
Does the program fit you?
Some people struggle with online courses, while others have challenges fitting classroom based learning into their busy schedules. Knowing how you best learn is important to figure out if you’ll ultimately be successful in a particular degree program or university. Checking accreditation is also important, especially if your future job market requires you to have a diploma from somewhere legit. Don’t waste time and money on a program that won’t allow you to enter your desired job market once you’ve finished.
Do you have a support system?
Even though you’re the one attending the classes, family, friends and your workplace are often impacted by your schooling. Having open and honest conversations with those closest to you will allow everyone to lay out their concerns. Pursuing an education with others who are there to encourage and support you is critical to success.
Are you in the right mindset to go back?
Is going back to school something you’re genuinely interested in and looking forward to, or are you doing it because of outside pressures from others or your workplace? If you’re not excited about returning and dread heading back to that textbook mindset, it’s less likely you’ll actually finish the program. Returning to school requires a commitment of not just time or money, but your laser-like focus and determination. Make sure you’re ready because you want to be, not because you have to be.
—Tara Puckey is a military spouse and freelance writer who lives in Indiana