I never went to college — a fact that’s hard to admit when surrounded by my peers. The time spent earning a diploma is a rite of passage for many, and I’m left out of a lot of conversations reminiscing about arguing psychology with beloved professors and attending morning classes while still hungover. Furthermore, I’m afraid it might paint me as less educated, or valuable. It’s not an awesome way to feel.
I’ve been researching ways I can earn a degree that will help me further myself in my career, and I’ve found I’m not alone; the number of adults in higher education is on the rise. However, there are unique challenges that working adults face when attending school.
If you’re like me and want to make the most of your “second chance” education, keep these four things in mind:
Pursue the Right Degree
Ask yourself what degree you need to advance in your career. Do you need a bachelor’s degree or would an associate work? Is a master’s degree the next step or will a certification serve you better? If you want to provide for a wider set of career options, a generalized degree will be best — after all 55% of hiring managers prefer grads with a broad knowledge set. However, if there is a clear career path, specialization is the way to go. For example, someone who works for a large company with a variety of management positions might benefit from an MBA whereas a paralegal in the same company’s legal department would benefit from a specialization certificate.
Secondary education is very, very expensive. While you may be leaning toward a particular program at a particular school, you need to assess whether it’s affordable. If not, evaluate whether the promotion dependent on that degree will provide you with the financial means to handle loan payments. The type of school you choose will have a major impact on cost. Community colleges often have significantly lower tuition costs — and an added benefit of flexible classes aimed at working adults.
Search for available financial aid to help offset costs — there are multiple scholarships for nontraditional students. Check with your employer to see if they’d be willing to help finance tuition costs, especially if they view you as an important, long-term company asset. If they aren’t willing to offer you tuition reimbursement, ask if they’d be willing to accommodate your education by offering a flexible work schedule to allow you to attend classes.
It’s no secret that motivation is one of the most important aspects to succeeding in higher education. If you haven’t attended school in a while, it’s a good idea to get prepared to go back by scaling down on other responsibilities for the period of time you’re enrolled in the program. By creating a better work/school/life balance, you’ll increase your chances of success.
Choose a Suitable Program
As more conventional universities enter the online arena, the options for going to school online are constantly growing. While attending class from the comfort of your home is especially appealing to those who work full-time, it’s important to weigh the ease in accessibility against the forfeited face-to-face time experienced in a traditional classroom. Many nontraditional students favor blended degree programs where you can do the majority of your classwork online, but still meet with faculty and fellow students and make connections.
While going back to school to advance your career may seem like a wise choice, it’s important to remember that a degree or certification is not going to guarantee a promotion or raise. As much as we’d all like it to be, life isn’t always fair. And, although education is usually a good thing, the challenges you face on the path to higher learning may not be easy to conquer. Take the time to weigh the pros and cons before going back to school. If you decide to take the plunge, choose a degree, pick a program, set your budget, and stay motivated.
Liz Greene hails from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. She’s a lover of all things geek and is happiest when cuddling with her dogs and catching up on the latest Marvel movies. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene or delve deeper into her internal musings at InstantLo