Going back to college at 40 or over can feel intimidating for a lot of reasons. For one, there’s the cost. When you have other financial responsibilities like a mortgage and family expenses, finding thousands of dollars for tuition can be challenging. Then of course there’s the aspect of readjusting to being a student after many years out of school…not to mention the apprehension that can come along with learning new technologies, or the thought of enrolling in classes with people half your age.
Yes, it’s overwhelming, but it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do it.
Making the decision whether or not to go back to school is a highly personal one, and it should take you some time think through it. Figuring it out can be easier, however, if you first consider a few of the following things:
Create your goals
Why do you want to go back to school? This is the central question in the decision-making process. For example, going back to school to change your career is a good reason to return. However, you should make sure that you choose a degree program that will help get you to where you want to be professionally. Research which majors are related to your desired industry, and then use the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to find out the job outlook for that career. No matter if you want to change careers, advance your current career, or simply to broaden your knowledge, use your goal to help you make the right degree program choices.
Figure out your pain points
Once you know why you want to go back to school, figure out the things that are holding you back. Determining your pain points will help set you on the path to find solutions for them. The U.S. Department of Education has an adult student checklist for adult students who are returning to college or going for the first time. Many resources are included that may address some of your pain points for returning to school.
If you worry that all of the other students will be teenagers or in their early twenties, research shows otherwise. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of students 25 years old and over has increased by a higher percentage than the increase in younger students. Projections show that this pattern should continue.
If paying for college is your main worry, figure out if you can make it work. Ask your employer if they offer tuition reimbursement or apply for federal aid. There are also scholarship opportunities for nontraditional students. If you can’t cover all of your education costs with financial aid and scholarships, look into how much you’d need to borrow, and which loans make the most sense for your situation.
Make a plan
Using your goals and pain points, make a plan to determine if going back to school is the right option for you. Include all of the costs and other practicalities that would impact your choice.
Here are some points to consider:
- Day-to-day logistics of your personal life. If you have children, factor in their schedules. Include your personal schedule too, like working out, cooking meals, household chores and similar details.
- Scheduling options. Keep in mind that you don’t have to attend school full-time. You can enroll part-time or take online classes.
- Take advantage of helpful resources. Universities have resources available to help you with your decision-making process. While making your plan, consult with people who can help answer your questions.
- Learn what the classes will be like. If you plan on taking online courses, research what the virtual classroom environment will be like and what equipment you’ll need to participate. If you plan on attending on campus, try observing a class or visiting campus for a tour.
Don’t let age hold you back from attending college. After creating goals, figuring out your pain points and making a plan, you might just discover that going back to school over the age of 40 the best decision you ever made!
For more guidance on making the decision to return to school, check out this free online worksheet.