Adults are heading back to school in greater numbers than ever before. For some, it’s a ticket to a liberating mid-life career change. For others, it’s a way to enhance and update job skills in a treacherous job market.
If you’ve taken the “back to school” plunge yourself, you will have noticed that the average age of students in higher education is rising. Nowadays, almost one-third of students earning bachelor’s degrees or higher are between the ages 25 and 64, and that number continues to rise.
If you are an older student thinking of hitting the books again, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Make sure the degree or course of study you are pursuing is what is really needed by employers. Before you sign up for classes, talk to potential employers or those actually working in the field to see what skills, degrees, and certifications are currently in demand.
Going back to school is an investment in yourself. Before taking the plunge, measure costs against expected benefits to see how much your investment will pay off in terms of increased earnings or better job stability.
Be realistic about how much time you’ll need to budget for attending class and completing homework. Ask yourself whether an “in class” or “online” setting would work best for you. Many older students report that being in a live classroom setting, including interaction with other students and professors, helps motivate them and leads to a deeper understanding of the course material. Weekend or evening class schedules are the preferred solution for some students, as they juggle family, work, and school responsibilities. Other students appreciate the flexibility of online classes, and are happy to exchange in-class instruction for the ability to “attend” class in the comfort of their own home.
If you’ve been out of a formal academic setting for some time, realize that your computer, math and other skills may need some updating. Your learning curve may be steep at first as you learn that today’s education relies heavily on email, electronics, PowerPoints, and other tools that weren’t even invented when you were in school. Warns writer Robyn Tellefsen, “the classroom has gone digital. Gone are the days of pencils and notebooks, so get with the digital age and bring a laptop or iPhone to class. That way, you’ll have notes saved and easily accessible for studying.”
Schools differ on the amount the credit they will give you in recognition of prior academic and workplace experience. Make sure you understand your school’s policy. Often, private schools that charge more per credit hour are more generous in recognizing prior work or school achievements, so see which approach lets you graduate faster or at lowest cost.
Last of all, don’t be worried. Writer Robyn Tellefsen has some words of encouragement. “This time around, you will be better at it. When you’re 30 instead of 18, you have a much better idea what you want out of your degree and out of life. You can count on being more driven because you know what you’d like to achieve.”
Insight: Nadine Shiff-Rosen went back to school at age 60 to pursue her passion of creative writing. Read her insider account of what it’s like to go back on 10 Tips on Going Back to School as an Adult. (For inspiration, see Tip#1: If you have a passion, follow it, and Tip# 5: Change is good).