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Are You Ready to Go Back to College?

Feb 3, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

If you believe the hype, you’d think all your employment problems would be solved if you could just go back to school. But not everybody is ready to go back—and if you drop out, you could waste a lot of tuition money. If you are ready for school, you have much more chance of sticking with it and earning a degree. Here are a few things to look for if you want to know whether you’re ready to go back to school as an adult learner.

You know exactly what you need the degree for

Going back to school requires a huge commitment in time, money and energy. Traditional college students typically see college as a time for exploration, but most adult students don’t have that luxury. So don’t go back to school without having a clear idea of what you’ll get out of it. Before you commit, know exactly why you want the degree and the types of jobs that will be waiting for you when you get out.

There will be a job waiting for you when you graduate

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It’s not unreasonable to ask prospective new students to think about their job prospects when they get out of school—and to weigh that against the debt they’ll have. If you’re going to rack up $60,000 in debt and the jobs in your field typically average around $40,000 per year, going back to school may not be a good investment—at least not at such an expensive school. In addition, if jobs in your field are scarce and shrinking, this may not be a good area to earn a degree in.

You’ve gone as far as you can with the level of education you have

You may not need a college degree for the career path you’ve chosen. You should consider going back to school if you keep finding yourself competing with college graduates for positions you want—and losing. But don’t think you necessarily have to go back to school just to fill a basic knowledge gap—you may be able to take certification classes instead, for much less time and money.

Your other responsibilities allow room for study time

Online schools advertise a flexible schedule—so you can study on your own time. But you still need time to study—as much as twelve hours a week, give or take. Make sure your life will allow you that time. If you’re constantly being overwhelmed by the demands of work and family commitments, you may need to make some changes in other areas of your life before you commit to school.

You have an employer who will help you pay

If your employer offers tuition reimbursement, use this chance to get an education. But first, ask questions. Ask first and foremost if your company has tuition reimbursement at all—and don’t assume they don’t; many companies don’t advertise their programs. Ask whether your degree program is covered—some companies won’t reimburse your tuition if they don’t see its direct application to your current job. And ask about grades—some programs will only reimburse your tuition as long as you maintain a certain grade point average.

You’ve thought through the financial consequences

Even if you’re lucky enough to get tuition reimbursement from your employer, you may have to pay at least some tuition costs on your own. Make sure you think that through. Signing up for college typically means signing up for student loan debt—and can you handle the debt load? If you’re like most college students, you’ll be paying for your college tuition for many years after you graduate.

You have support

Going back to school is highly demanding. You may need help and understanding from those around you—including your spouse, children, parents and employer. If the people in your life aren’t sympathetic to your plan to go back to school, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t go—but be prepared for the road to be tougher.

It’s not easy to go back to school in addition to juggling family, work and other commitments. But if you’re a determined student and you know exactly how you’ll use that degree, have fully thought through the finances and have the support of your loved ones, you have a much better chance of succeeding.



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