Although most students who graduate from high school attend college immediately after (about 67% in 2017), many return to college as adults. In fact, of the nearly 20 million students projected to attend college in 2018, almost 40% were expected to be above the age of 25. The reasoning varies based on the person; maybe a young parent wants to complete their degree after their children start school; maybe the reasoning for not going right after high school was financial, but now the person has the means to pay; maybe someone recently experienced being laid off and needs a fresh start. Other people may want to further their current career or make a change.
So as an adult in the midst of your career, why should you consider going back to college?
1. You can advance your career. Even if you’re comfortable where you are now, consider your future goals. Where do you see yourself in five years? 10 years? Will additional courses or another degree open up new possibilities? If you plan on advancing your career, and a couple of courses will greatly expand your opportunities, then the time and effort spent returning to school may be well worth it.
2. It might be free. You may be considering going back to school simply because your company will pay for it; in this case, check stipulations. Do the courses you enroll in have to be related to your current position? Do you have to pay back everything the company spent on your tuition if you leave your job? Although it’s nice not to have loans to worry about, being bound to a company for a specific period of time is not something to be taken lightly. If you’re happy with your company and are thinking about relevant classes only as a way to, say, improve your chances of a promotion, you’re probably just fine going to school on your company’s dime.
3. You can start a new career. Maybe you’re not entirely happy in your current position, and are considering returning to school for an entirely new career in a new field. Maybe you lost your job and want to try something new to improve your chances on the job market. Either way, getting more education is going to help you figure out what you want to do and provide you with the background necessary to make it possible. This option is costly, though, so do the math to make sure you have the capital to finance your certificate or degree program.
4. You can complete an unfinished program. If you are one of the many people who started a postsecondary program but never graduated, it’s not too late. You may be able to transfer your previously earned credits to a local community college or university. Talk to an admissions representative about your options.
Factors to Consider:
- Is your intended course, program, or degree available online? It may be easier to take classes around your work schedule if you’re not committed to being at a physical location at a particular time each week. Online classes generally let you study on your own time, and even if you have a scheduled class each week, you can do it from anywhere with internet access. If you are considering classes at a physical campus, make sure to factor any commuting time into your decision.
- Who pays for it? Knowing this information may help guide you in how many courses to take at a time. If your employer will pay for your education, check if there are limits as to how many courses they’ll pay for or if there’s a cap on tuition. If you will be paying for the courses, consider how much you can afford and how much financial aid you’ll need. (Remember to fill out the FAFSA!) Keep in mind that the number of courses you take at a time may impact how much financial aid is available to you.
- How much time will you have to study? This will vary depending on whether you plan to keep working full- or part-time or stop working entirely, how many classes you’ll be taking each semester, and what other responsibilities you have (e.g., children or relatives you care for). The general rule is that however many hours you’re spending in class, you should spend two to three times that amount studying outside of class. Knowing how much time you’re able to commit to studying and coursework will help you determine how many classes you should take.
- How many classes will you realistically be able to take at a time? The answer here depends on the amount of time you’ll have available to study, but you should also take into account prerequisites, which may initially limit your course load. For those enrolling in a degree or certificate program, it may be beneficial to map out all of the required courses and when you plan to take them so that there are no surprises.
- How long will the program or degree take? After answering the questions above, you should have a good idea of the answer here. Make sure that you’re ready to commit that amount of time before you apply to college or enroll in classes. Remember that, in general, students who take a full-time courseload (even for one semester) are more likely to finish their program than students who only take courses part time.
Once you’re ready to make the leap (and have talked to HR, if necessary), it’s time to apply to school. For help answering any other questions you may have about returning to school as an adult student, check out this section on our site!
My Experience as an Adult Student in an Online Degree Program
My College Story: Juggling Roles
Do This, Not That: Summer Classes for Adult Students
Using Online Classes to Make a Career Change
Common Concerns of Adult Students: Why You Shouldn’t Be Concerned
Finding and Citing Appropriate Sources for Academic Work
Preparing for the MCAT
My College Story: Minus the College