Are you thinking about going back to college?

If you are, you are not alone. Every year, people begin to think about the possibility of going back to college. There are a variety of reasons for the thought process that include learning new skills and knowledge to maintain a career, to find a new career, or to finish a degree that was started many years ago.

My educational journey as an adult learner included struggles that match research data, with a few added twists and turns. I will never claim it was easy or fun, but it was worth all the hard work it took to achieve my personal goals.

Think hard and long before returning to college as an adult student. Going back to school as an adult holds unique challenges that many do not contemplate before enrolling. The data on adult learners finishing college indicates that it will take determination with a plan that includes dealing with family issues, work demands, and social life. My educational journey as an adult learner included struggles that match research data, with a few added twists and turns. I will never claim it was easy or fun, but it was worth all the hard work it took to achieve my personal goals. I’ve mentored many people through the process of deliberating going back to school and have guided thousands through their educational journey.  The questions are usually the same, but the number one discussion is always about age.

Let’s talk about age.

When are you too old to return to college or trade school? Many adult students wonder if spending money and time on education after age 40 or 50 is worth it.  I suggest contemplating long and hard about finances, health, and life situations before going back to school after the age of 50. However, attending college or trade school in your 40’s could payoff depending on each person’s situation.

Getting Started

Despite being an adult, the position of student holds challenges with time, money, and anxiety. If done correctly with a clear path, your time as a student will lead to success. If I haven’t talked you out of going back to school, let’s get started on a plan.  Creating a reliable path to graduation is easy.

The first step is to answer a few critical questions that will help determine your future:

✅ Will going back to college help with your current career or future career?

✅ What are your career goals for the next 3 -5 years?

✅ Do you have career goals for the next 5 -10 years?

✅ Do your career goals require a college degree or trade school certification?

Confused?

Start researching the careers that will be available in the next five to ten years. Please, do not trust any school career counselor, advisors, or admissions personnel when choosing a degree program.  All higher education systems are in business to make money by enrolling students.  Put plainly; your career success is not the educational organization’s concern. Figure out your future by researching and spending time talking with friends and family. After answering the above questions, completing research, and spending time soul searching with family and friends, a degree or training can be chosen at an appropriate learning institution.

Degree Program

Does the cost of the degree match the salary of the career?

There are many websites to verify the salaries. One of my favorite salary verification websites is Glassdoor.com.

  • Is the degree specialized or broad-based? Cybersecurity is a specialized degree program while a business degree can be used for a variety of careers.
  • Does your degree allow you to be flexible in your career path?
  • What are the jobs of the future and what degrees will be required?
  • This question takes a lot of personal evaluation.
  • Are you going to school to get a degree that you have a passion for?
  • Are you going to school for a specific job?
  • Will your particular position still be available in 3-5 years?

Are you interested in a degree that will last you years after graduation?  Remember, no degree may last a lifetime. There may be a need to be a student again in college, a certification process, or re-training program.

If you cannot decide on a specific degree or career, start your educational journey at a community college.  The price will be affordable and the first year or two of general education requirements can be completed while giving you time to explore your options. However, it should be noted that there is a risk in attending a community college. Some schools will not take transfer credits while others will take a limited amount from a community college.   Why? Higher education is about making money not about what is in your best interest. However, if you look hard enough, you will find an educational institution that will take first and second-year transfer credits.

Degree Tip: The cost, time, and effort of obtaining a Ph.D. are not worth it for a career, but if completed for personal reasons, you will not regret it.

What trade school or college should you attend?

There are three main things to think about: cost, access to learning, and the course. Others will argue the reputation of the educational institution needs to be considered. However, due to the bias of evaluators, this information is not valid or trustworthy.  The exception would be if you are lucky enough to be a token student in the Ivy League or sub-Ivy League educational system, take the opportunity. While some people continue to rank schools for different financial reasons, your choice will most likely not affect your educational or career goals. Your success, happiness, and career are yours to create!

Cost

Get a detailed written explanation of the cost of the degree. You will need the total to compare to salaries and figure out living expenses once you graduate. Will you be able to pay the school loan and afford living expenses?

Access to Learning

As an active adult learner, you should only attend a college that offers you a degree that can be obtained 100% online.  Disregard the stigma about online education. Every school in the world is now offering or will soon offer online degrees.  Unfortunately, most trade schools cannot be completed 100% online or partially online due to hands-on required learning. Although the courses are not online attending the right trade school is worth the time, money and attendance.

The Course

Who is teaching the class? You are paying a lot of money to gain an education. Make sure you are gaining knowledge from a qualified Professor. If a school is continually having a Visiting Professor or teacher’s assistant (TA) acting as the instructor of courses, walk away.  Colleges use part-time employees to save money, not necessarily for the student’s benefit.  I’m not indicating that Visiting Professors are not knowledgeable, experienced or qualified to teach, but there needs to be a balance (some part-time Professors are more qualified than full-time Professors). 

How many students should there be in your classroom? The best learning environment for an online or on-campus is thirty students or less.  Please do not ever sit in a room filled with hundreds of students with a Professor that lectures you about their personal beliefs and selects information based on their biases.

What type of technology will be used in an online environment? Ask the school’s advisor about the online platform that is being used and when the last updated version was implemented and that Mobile technology is available.  Make sure that the online environment is not static and that the Professor is interacting every other day, and courses include simulations, individual and group projects, instant messaging and a live weekly session.  There are too many online platforms to discuss in this article.  Therefore, research about online platforms will have to be completed on your own. Use discernment.

Remember,

  • Online – Anytime
  • On your schedule

The last but most crucial question:

How will you pay for your education?

  • Student loans
  • Personal funds
  • Scholarships
  • Employer educational benefit
  • Family

Education costs can be crushing and devastating if you do not have a plan.  Today, American student loan debt is in the trillions. Educational institutions do not explain the realities of life after leaving school. Entering the real world requires paying for life experiences, school loans, and basic needs.  Schools are not in business to explain the salary vs. the cost of a degree or the odds of you receiving a job in your career field.

Finally, there will always be questions about getting an education.

  • Could I have been successful without a college degree or trade school education?
  • Was the cost of the education worth it?
  • Should I have gotten a different degree or training?

If you have specific questions about returning to school, please email me, and I will write an article on the subject.


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