In the previous installment of our “Thinking Through Going Back to School” series, we discussed the importance of identifying your objectives — deciding what you want to accomplish with your education. Now that you’ve thought about how you want school to change your life for the better, it’s time to think about how you can manage the inevitable, but not so desirable, changes that school can bring.
The Second Step: Consider How Returning to School Will Impact Your Personal Life
Adults going back to college have to consider two significant elements of their life: their finances and their time. How much of each of these you’re willing and able to invest will help determine what you study, where you choose to apply, and the pace at which you take courses.
Start with evaluating the financial elements. Be aware that most students, even those lucky enough to land scholarships, must carry some financial burden. Beyond tuition, there are student fees to cover and learning materials like books and software to purchase.
While you can work out many of the financial logistics once you’re closer to enrolling in school, it’s important to get a basic idea of how your education will impact your finances.
Answer the following questions:
“How much can I afford to pay up front?”
This may take a bit of time to figure out. Most institutions run on semester cycles, so think about how much you can afford to pay approximately every four or five months. Do you currently make enough money to cover some school expenses up front? Can you reallocate some funds in your budget?
“How much am I willing to borrow?”
Some people are more comfortable with incurring debt than others, and some are more confident than others that they’ll be able to pay their debt later down the line. If you’re not sure you’ll have a steady income after completing school, or you already have a lot of other debt, you may want to be a bit more cautious with how much you borrow. Try using a student loan calculator, like this one from FinAid.org, to help you decide how large of a loan to take. For more in-depth information about student loans, visit studentloans.gov and the student section on debt.org.
“Do I know of any ways to get financial assistance?”
Your decision about what and where to study can change significantly if you find some sources of financial assistance. You may realize you can afford a more expensive program, or to go full time rather than part time. Start investigating. For example, ask your employer if tuition reimbursement is available at your workplace. You can also begin searching for scholarships or grants. Some good starting points for your search include the Office of Federal Student Aid, and this compilation of scholarship search engines from U.S. News.
Next, it’s time to shift gears and think about your daily activities. How will you fit schoolwork into your everyday routine? Consider the following:
Can I make time for classes?
Think about how much time you can realistically devote to school each day. A general guideline is that you should plan 2 to 3 hours of study and homework time a week per credit hour taken. The average class is 3 credits, so you’ll most likely need to devote approximately 6 to 9 hours to each class each week.
What extracurricular activities will be impacted?
If you participate in any social, volunteer, or other community activities, make sure you can fit these into your schedule along with school. People often try to maintain the lifestyle they had before entering school, only to realize there simply isn’t enough time for everything. Identify your priorities, and decide how much of the time you spend doing extracurricular activities you’re willing to reallocate to your studies.
Do I have a good support system?
School obligations can often interfere with personal responsibilities, and you may need to ask others for help from time to time. For example, if you have children, do you know of someone who could watch them while you study? Even if you don’t have anyone to take care of but yourself, demands tend to pile up quickly, which may leave you feeling overwhelmed. Before you decide to dive into a rigorous curriculum, make sure you identify people who can offer you logistical and emotional support, and aid you finding a good school/life balance.
How difficult do you think it is for people to find the money and time for school? Do you have a good story or advice to share with our readers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Continue reading: Thinking Through Going Back to School – Part 3 »