Considering going back to school?
Yeah, me too.
Yeah, me too.
It’s been a hot minute since I was in school, and even in that short time, I feel like everything I thought I knew has changed. My life has taken unexpected turns, the economy is completely different, and now you don’t even have to go to class in order to go to class.
I have a full-time job and I enjoy it, but I feel like the right educational credentials could propel me into actually feeling fulfilled (and rich). Even yesterday, I read on Facebook that Mr. Machine-Shop in high school now makes $30/hr and I’m still struggling to pay rent. Fair, right?
A college degree was supposed to be the ticket to my dream job, but here I am, sitting at the station like I missed my bus and out thousands in student loans.
I wouldn’t say I failed at life, per se. But I definitely feel like I could be doing more. I think the rest of you potentially feel the same. Especially if you’re a perfectionist like muah.
I’m considering going back because a degree gives you the education, connections, network, and experience to turn things around and move in a different direction. However, going back to school is no small feat, especially not being 18 and full of hope. By combining my own personal experience and reading basically everything the internet has to offer, I’ve put together a personal guide for myself (and for you) on everything we need to know about going back to school and getting it right this time. We got this!
Is It Worth It?
This is probably the number one question I struggle with. So many of my friends come out of college with lots of debt, little job prospects and end up moving back in with their parents. I see this as a step backward, so was that degree really worth it? College requires a lot of time, effort, money, and stress and committing to it is not an easy decision. You should think hard about it Ask yourself these four questions.
- Do you have the time?
Committing to school means giving up time on something else. Not only for attending class, but for study groups, homework, and assigned readings. Family obligations, work, or social activities may have to be compromised in order to make it work. For me, that means missing a few nights and weekend parties may be substituted for time in jail- I mean, library. If you have children, going back to school may mean additional daycare costs or support from older children.
- Why didn’t it work before or why are you waiting?
Before going back, I have to decide what happened before and what is different now. The answers are probably different for everyone. Maybe you have newfound motivation, or a new skill set or interest you’d like to explore. Maybe you have more (or less) money now or your employer is offering tuition reimbursement options. If nothing is different, chances are the results will be the same, so be sure you know why you’re ready to go back.
Did toga parties get the best of you each weekend on your last go’round? Did you watch a few prerequisites go down the drain? If you have previous college transcripts you’re not proud of, don’t let that stop you from going back. You have to be honest about past institutions attended, regardless of how bad the grades were. You can’t simply forget about it and say that you haven’t attended before… they know. Many institutions offer academic forgiveness or academic renewal programs, but lying about bad grades is worse than telling the truth. Advisors are like your mom. She literally will always find out.
- Do you have a clear path?
My mother said that going to school without knowing what you’re doing is nothing more than a very expensive hobby. I hate when she’s right. It is important to know the end from the beginning. What’s the ultimate goal? What’s the bottom line and how are you going to get there? You don’t want to go to school to end up with a lot of debt and no career. Learn about the career field you’re interested in and be strategic about your education choices to ensure that every class you take will benefit you in the long run.
For example, myself — a committed marketing “professional” — might consider obtaining a Master of Science in Social Media as compared with the more general MBA. This is where the help of an experienced academic advisor comes in very handy. Most colleges require all students meet with an academic advisor, even if you’re doing an online program, so take this opportunity seriously and make a plan you can stick to.
- Can you afford it?
Paying for school is a little bit like closing your bar tab at the end of the night. It’s necessary, but not fun. Knowing how much is too much for school depends on your age and situation. It is often cheaper to start at a community college, get a two-year degree, and then transfer credits for the last two years at a four-year university. That way you don’t have high tuition rates all four years and can take the same classes at a less expensive rate.
Look into grants, scholarships, and loans available to you before you start. Who doesn’t like free money? Sites like finaid.org can help you learn about all your options, then speak with your school’s financial aid department for more information. Don’t forget to check with your employer to see if they offer any tuition reimbursement programs. Student loans are always an option and they have a low (or sometimes no) interest, but look into other options first to limit the amount of debt you take on so you’re not overwhelmed later.
Reasons To Finish
If you’re looking for a reason to go to school, you don’t have to look very far. Most real adults I talk to say they only regret not going back sooner. There are hundreds of reasons to go back — the least of which include:
- Being more qualified
- Showing you can be successful
- Change jobs
- Make more money
- Create a future
- Enjoy a better lifestyle
- Build your confidence
- Increase your network
- Learn from experts
- Gain exposure
If you are making a pro/con list about going back to college right now, rip it up and start your application. If you’re motivated enough to make a pro/con list, you’re motivated enough to go back.
Fitting In With The College Crowd
Screw that. You’re born to stand out. Let your 1 or 2 or 1,000 gray hairs help tell your story. Besides, you’re more interesting than Chad — you know the Chad I’m talking about — the morning after a kegger anyway. Adult learners are more and more common in college classrooms. Chances are if you are older, you are also busier, more motivated, and more focused than your peers. They can probably learn something from you! If you’re really concerned about being the old one at school, you can opt for an online program.
(And if you’re still worried, we’ve got your back to school tips right here.)
It’s NOT JUST An Online Degree
A legitimate, accredited, and well-respected online school can be just as impressive, and even perhaps more impressive than a big university. Why? Because it takes a lot of tenacity, organization, hard work, and responsibility to complete an online degree while “adulting”. Showing a potential employer an online degree shows them that you are driven, self-motivated, and dependable enough to go to school while still handling life and a full-time job. Or, you can stack up sky-high student loans and try to impress people with your ivy league university sweatshirt. Always go for education over prestige.
What If I Can’t Do It?
This is another big hurdle for me. I have trouble focusing for a very long time (blame social media), so I’m not sure I could be successful with only online classes. However, I found that you can actually try a few online class before you invest in the commitment of an online degree. Usually you don’t get college credit for these classes, but they are free and taught by top-tier professors to give you a taste of what an online degree might be like, so why the hell not? Also, you might be able to take online courses that are self-paced, which means you finish them on your own time table (usually you have six months per class to finish), or you may be able to take CLEP tests that can get you out of some basic classes altogether.
How to Tell Your Boss
Employers like to have a well-educated staff, and most will encourage and support you if you decide to go back to school. A good boss will be willing to work with you to support you while you achieve your goals, and some companies even have tuition reimbursement programs or scholarships for employees. Lucky you.
Depending on how much your schooling will affect your current schedule, you may need to inform your employer of your plans. While an online curriculum may not require any time off, if you’re planning to attend campus classes, you may need to alter your work schedule or take a leave of absence. Explore alternate options as well such as weekend classes, night sessions, or intense courses that only require 3-4 days on campus.
How to Tell Your Family
I had a heart-to-heart with my dog about this. She said it would be ruff, but plans to give me her full support. If you plan on going back to school, you may have to tell more of your family than just your pup.
Be upfront about your goals so that those closest to you can support you. Make time to spend together, and try to do your homework the same time your children are doing theirs, then when everyone is finished you can still enjoy family time. It’s definitely a balancing act, but if everyone is on the same page, it makes it easier to support each other. Set aside clear study times where your spouse and children know that you’re unavailable. If necessary, study at the library instead of at home. Set clear boundaries so you don’t get overwhelmed and then go enjoy quality time at home with those who love and support you.
If you’re ready to go back to school, start now by getting organized. Wake up early, keep a schedule of tasks (i.e. look up financial aid resources, meet with academic advisor, etc.) Create a schedule that allows you a consistent routine you can stick to. Set aside time for work, family, and school responsibilities. You’ll find you are more productive and have more time in your day if you use each minute wisely.
Ready to go back to school?
Are you excited?
If you have any great tips for going back to school, I would love to hear them. I need all the help I can get. I might go through 50 lbs of Reese’s Cups before the first semester starts. But ya know, I’m excited about the possibilities.
Comment below, like, and share! Thanks y’all!