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Should You go Back to College as an Adult?

Updated on July 31, 2014
Mandy M S profile image

Mandy is a mom of 4 and a long time volleyball enthusiast and coach. Mandy's other interests include parenting, teaching, and literature.

A question asked by millions of adults every year, "Should I go back to college?"
A question asked by millions of adults every year, "Should I go back to college?" | Source

Should I Go back to College as an Adult?

Every year millions of non-traditional students go back to college as adults. Even though it's becoming more of a common occurrence every year, it's still not a decision that adults take lightly. There are 5 main concerns to address and consider before you jump back into the college scene.

1. Why do I Want to go back to School?

There are many reasons for wanting to go back to college. Reasons often cited by adults who are considering returning to college:

  • Never attended college in the first place and looking for the fulfillment of a degree.
  • Attended college when younger but was not able to finish due to life circumstances.
  • Needs additional education to advance in their career.
  • After time in the workforce is looking to explore a new or more fulfilling career.
  • Looking to obtain a masters or doctorate.
  • Wants to learn a new trade.
  • Simply enjoys education for the sake of learning.

College is a lot of work, especially as an adult when you have responsibilities in your life greater than just your education and finding the coolest party to go to on he weekend. You want to make sure before you start that your motivation for attaining your degree is enough to drive you onward, even when the going gets tough.

2. Will Returning to School fit into my Life?

Many adults when considering whether or not to go back to school have to consider many factors outside of themselves. One of them is their current job and family if they have them. If you work full time, have children and volunteer position and other commitments things are going to have to change drastically for you to return to college.

A college professor once told me that you can expect to spend at least as much time outside of the classroom on your coursework as you do inside of the classroom, and for many classes it's actually more of a 2 to 1 ratio. For each hour you spend IN the classroom, you will spend 2 outside of the classroom.

If you examine this, that means if you are a full time student (which is a minimum of 12 credit hours) then you will spend at least 24 hours a week on your studies and if you are in upper level classes this could easily become 36 hours. How will this fit in with your life? Will you have to quit your job or become part time? Can your family handle that financially? Even a 6 credit hour course load could take up 18 hours of your week. And an Online University will save you travel and class time, but they also expect you to be putting in about 20 hours a week. Where will that time come from? What will you sacrifice?

If your college goals don't work with the life you have right now, you have two options, you can put off your college dreams or you can change your life.

3. Can I Afford to go back to School?

Returning to college can be an expensive proposition. Tuition alone can range from $6000 to $36,000 a year. On top of that you need to ask yourself if you can afford the sacrifice of time and if you can afford the career sacrifice that you will make.

The career sacrifice varies depending on what you are going back to school for. If you are going back for your masters in your current line of work during non-work hours, the sacrifice that your career will take while you are in school may just be you being a little more tired at work. If you are stopping your current career path to start a whole new one then you need to realize that you are basically setting yourself back in career terms to that of a 22 year old. Yes, your current work experience should work in your favor to a degree, but you will be starting all over career wise. Can you afford to do that?

What about your family is your relationship with your spouse (if you have one) strong enough to withstand the demands of college for a couple of years? How about your children (if you have any) are they going to lose out in care with the additional hours you'll be putting in? Is there someone to help out?

Then there is the financial aspect. Many, if not most, students can get grants and loans through the government. However, the average college student is graduating with $20-30k in debt. Will you be able to pay that when you are done with your education? If you can't get aid because of your income then you will have to come up with the cash for college upfront. Can you afford to do that?

Make sure all answers are positive in the affordability category before you make your decision to go back to college.

The face of education is changing as more and more adults return to college later in life.
The face of education is changing as more and more adults return to college later in life. | Source

4. What is the right College for me?

There are many different options when it comes to furthering your higher education. Which one is right for you?

Community College - These are great options for someone who is just starting out. You can get your generals out of the way for a much cheaper rate than a 4 year public or private college. Community Colleges tend to be full of non-traditional students, and they tend to offer a lot of evening classes and even some weekend classes.

Tech School - A Technical college is a great way to pick up a new trade. Often tech schools do CNA, and LPN training, IT training, and offer many other highly profitable trade courses in HVAC, Plumbing, welding, truck driving and many, many more! In two years you can have an entirely different career. Also full of non-traditional students.

Public University - A public university is an affordable choice for someone needing a Bachelors or Masters degree but who doesn't have a ton of money to spend. Many public universities offer great educations! It can be more difficult to find evening/weekend classes, especially if you are pursuing a bachelors degree because the vast majority of students are traditional students right out of High School. Masters programs tend to have more night and weekend classes and non-traditional students.

Private University - A private university is very similar to a Public U in what the advantages/disadvantages are except Private Universities tend to have a higher pricetag. Although generally Private Universities offer more financial assistance, so don't be afraid to look into this option if it's what you are looking for.

An Online University - Online Universities are still in their infancy stage and because of this you have to sort the good from the bad. Make sure you do your research before enrolling anywhere. Some online Universities Like Western Governer's University seem to be highly praised by both the media and it's students. And some online universities are "Diploma Mills" whereas long as they get their money you will get your Diploma, but it won't be worth much.

When searching for an Online University, make sure they are Nationally AND Regionally accredited. This will save you big headaches when trying to transfer credits out.

The advantages for an Online University is that you can usually work when your schedule allows it and move at your own page. The disadvantage is that you don't have to social interaction of a classroom, and you are basically on your own for your education. Nobody will be hounding you to go to class or get your work done. You have to be complely self-motivated.

Once you find the right college, you are well on your way to deciding if you should go back to college.

5. What does my Heart Say?

Sometimes you just need to look inside yourself to know if it's time to go back to school or not. You only get one life and you shoudn't waste it doing something that doesn't seem right for you.

Maybe you are considering going back to school because of family pressure, or because you know in your mind that going back would get you a better salary or job, but you just don't feel it in your heart. Maybe you don't want to invest in college right now, or you know in your heart that you don't want to return to college right now even though you know it makes sense logically. I would suggest NOT going to college if this is how you feel. College requires motivation and if you don't have it you are more likely to do poorly in classes and/or drop out.

Perhaps everyone is telling you that you are crazy to leave your high-paying job as a lawyer to go back to school to become an elementary teacher, but in your heart you know it's the right thing to do. Maybe it's something you've always dreamed of doing or something you feel a calling for. Sometimes you have to put logic aside and follow your dreams. You don't want to be 80 years old saying, I wish I would have pursued my dreams. Go ahead and make your dreams come true and don't feel guilty for it. Life is short, make it count!

Only YOU can Decide

In the end, only you can decide if you should go back to school or not. You can read everything you can get your hands on, and talk to a million people to get their opinion, but in the end, you have to decide what is right for you.

Good luck in making that decision! I know it's not an easy one, but it could be one of the most rewarding decisions you ever make.

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    • Dan Barfield profile image

      Dan Barfield 4 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Life-long-learning is the way to go! If your career isn't doing it for you go back to school/college/university and get some new skills and/or knowledge. As far as I'm concerned it is never too late to try something new. This is a great hub, and well written. Voted up.