Higher education is no longer just a young man or woman’s game. Plenty of students leave the college classroom at age 20 or 21 and assume that’s it.
But that doesn’t line up with the current reality. Experts say that by 2020, 43 percent of all college students will be age 25 or older. In some cases, they’re much older. In 2018, Forbes even asked if going back to school after 50 is “the new normal”.
If you’re thinking of signing up for college classes and finishing your degree, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions first. Here are three questions to answer.
What kind of school works with my schedule?
When you’re 18 or 19, you don’t have a lot of real-world obligations. A lot of people that age have jobs, but most of them only work a part-time schedule rather than one that requires them to be in the office 40 hours or more per week. A decade or so later, all that’s changed. Many more people are married. On average, a woman has her first child at age 28. That means there’s a lot of women and men out there who must balance parenthood with schoolwork.
Most students think they’ll go back to school in a traditional classroom setting, but that doesn’t work for every schedule. And it doesn’t have to work for every schedule. Accredited online and continuing education degree programs allow you to go to school without getting in the car, battling traffic, and finding a parking spot on a crowded campus lot. Just make sure your program has the proper accreditation, since there are many online diploma mills which are interested in taking students’ money without giving them a proper education in return.
What type of career do I want?
Let’s say you’ve looked at your local colleges’ course offerings. You’ve decided you want to return to school to get a business degree. That’s great, but do you know what you’re going to do with that degree? A plan to start your own perforated tubing business is a lot more solid than saying something like “I’ll figure it out later.”
This doesn’t mean you need to have every single part of your career path mapped out in great detail, but you do need some sort of concrete plan. Career counselors can help you figure out the tangible benefits of a degree in your chosen field. If you don’t know what your degree will do for you, then you need to keep digging. “That sounds cool” is a good reason to find out more about a specific major, but it should be a starting point, not an ending point.
How will I pay for it?
This might be the biggest question of all. A lot of students have loans. There’s no shame in taking out loans if that’s what you need to complete your degree. But if you don’t want a lot of student loan debt, that’s understandable. There are grants and scholarships that can also help you fund your education without going into a lot of debt.
On average, a student graduates with more than $37,000 in debt. That may not sound like a lot, but it can do a lot of damage to your future before you even realize it. Don’t just assume your college degree will pay for itself, and don’t sign a student loan contract without understanding exactly what you’re committing yourself to. If someone in the college financial aid office is exerting undue pressure on you to sign the papers without reading them, then that’s a red flag.