Going Back to School in Your 30’s is Easier -- and More Rewarding -- Than You Think
Whether it’s learning a new language, (finally) learning enough math to handle your financials like a whiz, or becoming an expert in the one skill that will put your resume over the top, heading back to college can be an even better investment than it was the first time. While it’s obviously a major investment of cash and time (yes, your weekends may involve essays, again), the return is even better now: higher paying jobs, a more impressive resume, a bigger paycheck, or just being a more interesting, educated human being. And since you’re already a fully-formed adult, this time around, going back to school is blessedly easier than you remember. Here’s why:
You’re much better prepared this time aroundUnlike the first time around at college, staying home to read a book as an adult inspires neither guilt nor FOMO -- it's actually quite pleasant. This is one of the many advantages of being an older student. It’s actually been shown that more mature students do better in school. Researchers in Canada performed an extensive study of community college students, and their findings suggested that mature college students (those over 25) actually performed better on their final exams (on average six to seven points higher) than their younger counterparts. This data makes sense if you think about it: you’ve already had a chance to travel and find yourself (and spent weekends perfecting your beer pong game), so you can finally focus on getting your degree first when you make the decision to go back. Plus, you’ve already had to do tedious things like taxes and credit card applications, so taking notes should be a breeze.
Hate your job? Study your way outOne of the great things about heading back to college for a second degree or certificate is that the rewards are immediate and tangible. Your first time around, it’s not always clear what the long-term rewards of struggling through statistics are. But when you know that the stats you learn may be the way to escape from a less-than-ideal work situation, it’s a lot easier to dedicate yourself to mastering the skills required. And once you’ve got those skills, you can sell them to employers who might treat -- or at least pay -- you better.
Like your job? Stay, study, and get a sizeable promotionOf course, you don't have to pack up your desk and burn your bridges to get the benefits of a few extra credits. You can also better your prospects while remaining a good company man or woman by furthering the degree you already have rather than starting something new. CareerClout career counselor Todd Gareiss often recommends a secondary degree for those whose interests coincide with an in-demand niche, like real-estate finance, as opposed to a traditional MBA, which tends to saturate the market with candidates at regular intervals. U.S. News specifically cites law, financial management, and nursing anesthesiology as fields where adding a 30-odd credit Master's degree can have the immediate effect of bumping your median potential salary well into the six figures. There are few limits to the skills you’re able to market if you take a gamble on yourself and head back to school. Gareiss does, however, recommend part-time and online programs which allow you to keep your current job while training for a new one, and more importantly save you from spending that entire pay increase on new student loan debt. Plus, you can do it from the convenience of your own home (no dorms and wearing shoes in the shower for you, you fancy adult, you).
Learning online is super easy, PLUS your boss may pay your tuitionOnline programs have made going back to school seamless for working or busy adults. All you need is an internet connection to get to class, rather than trekking across a giant campus or (worse) trying to find parking as a commuter student. And despite some skepticism for the quality of online programs, experts attest that they are often just as good as traditional degrees, where students sit in classrooms. In addition to the flexibility, it offers students the ability to communicate through technology -- both with other students and with teachers. This combined with it being more affordable, explains why according to a study in U.S. News, online enrollment has steadily risen since the fall of 2014.
It’s also far less pricey than attending traditional universities and private schools because you’re not paying for room and board, and you can study while earning income at your job. Besides all that, it may actually be even faster to get your degree online. Many online programs cut the fat by providing targeted degree options that take away extraneous classes that aren’t directly related to your major. (That means no more forced languages or “math for poets” classes). Not to mention that in your adult life, you have someone other than your parents and the federal government to hit up for tuition: your boss. As long as you’re not planning to study for a new career and abandon them, it behooves your employer to help you educate yourself. In addition to smarter, well-trained, happier employees, they get a good old tax break for their generosity. Up to $5,250 of employer-provided educational assistance is tax free, even if it’s for classes that aren’t related to your current gig, according to a recent study by the American Institute of CPA’s (and those guys know their tax laws).