College Advice Blog

Jan 2, 2014

To Be or Not to Be (An Adult Student)

For those of us caught somewhere between our big dreams and the daily grind, going back to school can start to sound like a good idea after all. Maybe you already have a bachelors’ degree, but your field of study no longer matches up with your career aspirations. Or maybe you joined the workforce straight out of high school and now you’re standing at the top of a ladder that isn’t quite tall enough to provide the opportunity that will really showcase your potential. 

There is no shortage of reasons to return to academia; no shortage of good reasons. But as an adult, the prospect can seem more than a little bit daunting. The truth is every individual’s circumstances are unique. This is nothing new. And, to be honest, for every reason to go back to school, there is also a reason not to. 

I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer. After all, I went back to school after an eight-year-long hiatus and it was easily the best decision of my life. My experience as a student was made all the better by the perspectives I’d gained during those years I was not in school, not to mention the drive and dedication I’d developed as a working adult.

What I’m getting at is that returning to school is a BIG decision. It requires a serious commitment of your time…and your money. Carefully considering your individual situation before choosing if, when, and where you’ll go to school will help ensure that the end result of your decision is valuable, manageable, and satisfying.

Consider the answers to the following questions as you plan out the path that is right for you, your family, and your future:

Why are you thinking of going back to school? 

Is it because you’re looking for a promotion that requires a particular degree or certification? Are you bored with your current line of work, or maybe you’ve found your calling and that calling is outside the realm of your current professional experience?

Like I said before, there is no shortage of perfectly good reasons to become an adult student. Knowing your personal reasons, however, is an important first step towards choosing the right school and program to achieve your goals.

What type of program are you looking for?

Non-traditional students generally return to school with a better idea of what they want to gain than a majority of fresh-from-high-school freshmen. This makes it easier to pare down the extensive list of options available to degree-seekers. 

Do you already have a degree, but want to specialize in a particular area of your field? Does your community offer a brick-and-mortal college or university that has the courses you want to take? Are you willing and able to relocate? Do your responsibilities at home or current job mean you can only dedicate a few hours each week to coursework, or that you can only take night or weekend classes?

Depending on your answers to these questions, along with what you know about yourself as a student (whether you are self-directed or prefer the structured environment of a physical classroom), you can determine if an accredited online degree program would better fit your needs than a traditional institution. 

Do you have applicable experience?

Informal experience, whether educational or practical, can sometimes be applied towards your educational goal. It is no longer all that rare for degree-granting programs to award credit based on real-world experience. 

Are you prepared?

Before you enroll, it is wise to prepare for the realities of going back to school. Not least of these is expense. Educational costs are at an all-time high. This can be a bit terrifying, especially if your game plan includes reducing your hours at work, or leaving your current career altogether. 

There is good news, however. Financial aid is often available by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). There are also scholarship and grant opportunities that target adults and other non-traditional students looking to earn a degree. If you’re not planning to switch from one industry to another, check to see if your employer offers tuition reimbursement for continuing education. 

What else? Depending on how long you’ve been out of school, today’s classroom will look very different. 

Even traditional instructor-led courses incorporate modern technology. From note-taking to learning modules, turning in assignments and participating in online discussion groups, you’ll likely be using a computer or table to complete course activities.  If your tech skills are a little rusty, you may want to invest some time in getting up to speed. There are lots of tutorials on YouTube and other websites, but chances are you’ve got at least one tech-savvy friend who’ll be happy to help.

Having a strong support system in place is another important aspect of preparation. Friends and family can be your cheerleaders when stress runs high and self-doubts arise. Many of us need more than just cheerleaders to make it through. Knowing you’ve got a supportive and understanding employer who is willing to work with you to build a schedule that takes your schooling into account can make a world of difference. And if you have little ones at home, you’ll need to think about childcare.

About the Author 
Haley Coffman is a recent college grad at the age of 31. The road to her degree was a long and windy one, but she made it! She now enjoys working with eDegree, helping students navigate through their own college careers.

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