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Going back to school as an adult: What to know

minute read

    Are you considering going back to school as an adult? Deciding to further your education can be a life-changing experience in many ways. Before making your choice, there are many personal and financial details you'll want to think about. Let's take a closer look. 

    Should I go back to school?

    There are many reasons someone may consider going back to school.

    • Changing your career path. For some, going back to school is a way to move into a new career path if you find you're not enjoying your current options. If you went to college after high school and got a degree in engineering, you may find yourself in your 30s wishing you were doing social work instead. It's normal for our interests and perspectives to change as we age and going back to school may help you find a career you're more passionate about.
    • Increase earning potential. Maybe you love your job, but your room for advancement has plateaued because you need a higher degree. Going back to school, whether it's for your associate's, bachelor's or master's, often opens doors for higher-level jobs and more compensation.
    • A new opportunity. You may have not been in a position to advance your education at the more “traditional” time in your life, but you now have the time and resources to make it happen. Higher education provides opportunities in a wider range of fields than a high school diploma does and gives you a better chance for success in the job market.
    • Finishing a degree. There are many people who start a degree after college and for one reason or another don't finish. Whether it's due to finances, health issues, family caretaking or wanting a break from school, stepping away from higher education is not uncommon. However, once you're in a better place, you may want to go back and finish what you started.
    • Personal growth. Higher education often offers students a period of self-discovery. Discussions in the classroom, a wide range of classes and professors with an array of backgrounds opens the door for much personal growth.

    If any of these reasons to go back resonates with you, then you may want to start considering going back to school. 

    What should I go back to school for?

    If you're looking for a change but aren't sure what exactly you want, it can be hard to decide what to study when you go back to school as an adult. There are a few things you may want to keep in mind when deciding.

    • What are you interested in? You may find school (and your subsequent career) more enjoyable if you're doing something you like. Make a list of some of the things you enjoy doing or learning about and see what types of careers line up with that. If baking is your hobby, maybe you'd enjoy culinary school. If you've been wanting to learn to code, software engineering could be perfect for you.
    • How long do I want to spend in school? Depending on whether you're starting from scratch, resuming a paused degree or furthering your current degree, program length may be a deciding factor. If you decide to completely change career paths, do some research on different programs or areas of focus. For instance, if you want to go into healthcare and don't want to spend the better part of a decade back in school, you may want to consider being a surgical technician rather than a physical therapist.
    • What does the job market look like? Getting a job can be tough in any field, but there are always job markets growing faster than others. If you need help finding some direction, do some research online to learn what career paths have the most opportunity.
    • What would my earning potential be? There's nothing wrong with wanting to make money. Financial stability is often a major part of a person's mental well-being, so it's reasonable to want to make sure you'll be able to afford your bills and the lifestyle you desire. Median income for careers can vary greatly between cities and states, but you can often find plenty of information online about what type of compensation you can expect.

    Keeping these four factors in mind may help you decide what careers are worth going back to school for. 

    Considerations before going back to school as an adult

    In many cases, going back to school as an adult is a bit more logistically complicated than it is as a teenager. When you're 18 and fresh out of high school, you'll likely still have the support of your parents throughout your college years. However, if you decide to return to school as an adult, there's a good chance you're living independently, paying your own bills and may even have children of your own. These are some of the things you should consider before making this decision.


    It's no secret that college is expensive. But for adults who go back to school there is more than just the cost of tuition and books to think about. College is a big commitment, meaning it will also cost you in wages, transportation costs, time and childcare. Childcare costs and the loss of wages from needing to commit time to classes and homework are often two of the biggest challenges for adults who return to college.

    Choosing a college

    After deciding what field you want to study and what kind of program would work for your lifestyle, it's time to find a college that meets those needs. Know how much time you're able to commit to classes and homework before researching programs at schools. It's important to make sure the school and program you're choosing will work with your lifestyle and fit your needs before committing your time and money. Some things to consider asking about are the options for being a fulltime student vs. a part-time student, as well as available financial assistance.

    In-person vs. online

    If transportation or childcare are issues for you, an online program may suit your lifestyle better. If you find it hard to concentrate at home even when the kids are asleep, then you may want to attend school in-person. Many schools offer fully online degrees, so consider what will work best for your lifestyle.

    Time constraints

    As an adult going back to college, you'll likely need to continue working to support yourself while you get your degree. Make note of how much time you can sacrifice for classes and coursework and try to find a program that fits that. Many schools offer the same degree, but one might have eight-week semesters while another has 15-week ones. Some may have night classes while others are primarily daytime classes.

    Support network

    Going back to school may mean you need a strong support system to remind you of your goals and support you along the way. Sometimes you may simply need a pep talk when things get tough, but other times you may need someone to drop off a meal or pick up the kids from school. Having your support system on board may make the whole process more doable.

    What's more 

    Going back to school as an adult can be incredibly fulfilling and completely doable with some thoughtful planning. Be sure to put plenty of consideration into your needs and your future before heading back to school and changing your life for the better.

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