As fall quickly approaches, parents throughout the country work feverishly to get their kids ready for the new school year. This leads many parents and other adults to reflect on their own education and consider whether or not they should return to school.
There are many reasons why adults return to school later in life. They may be seeking a new career, a promotion, higher pay, or even to expand career options within their current field. Regardless of the reasons, each potential student must consider three important factors when deciding if they should go back to school now.
Do you have the time?
This may seem like a rather obvious factor to consider, but it is more complicated than it used to be. Given the dramatic rise in online degree options for students, the issue of time is different than it may have been when you first went to a traditional college. The differences in time requirements of online versus traditional degree programs are significant.
For a traditional program, you need to consider the time it takes to go to campus, attend classes at specified times, and then do the required reading and assignments. Online programs can require less time (since you’re not traveling), but they require different time commitments. For example, some courses may still require you to be online and in class at specified times, often on nights and weekends. Others may be much more flexible but expect you to read and respond to many of your classmates’ discussion posts. Online programs require a significant amount of self-discipline and time-management as well, a factor that you should consider as you determine if you have the time to complete a course or degree program.
Do you have the financial resources?
Many adults went to college right out of high school. Most students traditionally went to the financial aid office, spoke to a financial aid counselor, and applied for anything that was recommended. Most commonly, these included federal financial aid programs. These programs still exist, but as an adult returning to school, there may be other options to consider. Many companies, especially larger ones, offer tuition reimbursement programs for their employees. These programs help the employee gain the higher education they desire and often encourage the employee to stay and use those new skills in their current job. The federal government also offers tuition assistance or reimbursement programs for federal employees. This includes some programs designed to provide loan forgiveness for people entering specific careers such as teaching. It is also helpful to search online for educational grants for your chosen field. Many non-profits and businesses offer such grants to encourage entrance into a specific field.
Another finance saver to consider is going for a newer type of degree, Micro Degree. These are specific skill or subject focused programs that you can claim expertise in while saving a significant amount of money. This can be a good alternative if you already know what you want to study and what career direction you want to go in.
Do you have the support you need?
Let’s not kid ourselves. Going back to school and getting a new degree is hard work. If you also have a family and a full-time job, it can take a toll on you. The support you receive from family, friends, co-workers, and your employer can have a significant impact on your success. If you’re a parent who is returning to school, you may find it even tougher, but it can also have outstanding benefits. You may need support with childcare or around the house. You may even need your children to do more as well. But the lessons they will learn as they see you working hard to get an education are invaluable.
Emotional support is just as important as the practical supports of childcare and household duties. You will experience ups and downs throughout your college career. With the added stress of other life demands, you will need someone with you to cheer you on when things are tough and to celebrate with you when you do great.
This is a guest post by Dr. Crystal Ladwig.
Dr. Crystal Ladwig has taught online and face-to-face college courses for 20 years. She specializes in training future teachers and conducts research on training teachers to work with students with challenging behaviors.