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Your career has hit a brick wall. You’ve done well to get where you are, but now the promotions have dried up. You’ve considered moving jobs to get your career moving again – but all the jobs you desire need a college degree. And what if you get laid off? How easy will it be to find a job without a degree at your age?
According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by researchers at Georgetown University, during the Great Recession between 2007 and 2009, the number of college degree graduates with jobs actually increased while unemployment among other groups exploded.
In this post, we examine whether going back to school in your 30s is viable. We look at your options, and how to afford going back to school if you decide that’s the best route for your future career.
Should I Go Back to School?
If you’re concerned about your career or you’re finding it tough to get a well-paying job after being laid off, you might be thinking about going back to school.
Indeed, According to the National Center for Education Statistics, you’re much more likely to have a job if you have a college degree than if you don’t. Perhaps you are considering going back to school to boost your earning potential. After all, the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities found that bachelor’s degree holders make $1 million in additional earnings on average over their lifetime.
Let’s examine the reasons you should go back to school, and the reasons it may not be a great idea.
Reasons you should go back to school at 30:
Refine your skills
Perhaps you are missing an important skill that is holding you back in your career. Going back to school to learn new industry-relevant skills can help your career excel. You may want a more in-depth knowledge of your industry or to study a skill that was not taught while you were at college.
Preparing for a career change
Maybe when you went to college the first time around you didn’t have much direction. After some more life experience, you have decided your field no longer interests you and you want to switch up your career.
Reached your earning potential in your current job
In some jobs having a bachelor’s or master’s degree directly correlates with a higher salary. Maybe your earning potential has reached an impasse and you want to get a degree to secure a pay rise or promotion in your current role.
Grow your professional network
While building a network is not often the sole reason people in their 30s go back to college, it is a factor worth considering. You can grow your connections with both new, up-and-coming students who you think will make a splash in your industry. You can also build connections with professors and alumni and seek mentorship from those with more experience and expertise than yourself.
Reasons you shouldn’t go back to school at 30:
Going back to college is generally a good decision. However, if you go with the wrong attitude thinking the whole process will be a breeze, you are not likely to succeed. If you don’t have the passion to learn and are simply going because you are bored, you are not going to get the most out of the experience.
One common reason that students drop out of college the first time is that they don’t know what they want out of life. A lack of direction can lead to picking a subject that is not a passion or leads to a career you don’t enjoy. If you still have not got a clear direction of where you want your college degree to take you in, starting up again is not a solid choice.
You think it will land you your dream job
While there is a clear link between college education and employment, completing your degree does not mean you will automatically land your dream job. Advancing in your field will require commitment and determination. You will need to manage your expectations of what a degree will bring you and explore all the options available to you to help you reach your goals.
You think you will be a great student
You have a lot more life experience, are older and wiser. You will surely be a great student, right? While this may give you some advantages, college has probably changed a lot since you were last there. Learning new skills and processing of new information is tough. If you are expecting to be perfect, re-examine your expectations.
How to Afford Going Back to School at 30
If you have established you have all the right reasons for going back to school at 30, the next thing you need to figure out is how you will pay for it. The average cost of a four-year for a public four-year in-state college is $9,970 per year, according to ValuePenguin. That may not be the kind of money you have lying around, and if you are switching careers or have multiple years to finish, the cost will keep increasing.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are options available to help you finance your college degree.
As an adult, you have the advantage of experience managing your finances. You know how to budget, pay your rent on time, and have years of experience paying bills. You’ve learned how to cut your expenses and save money. This can make finding financing less overwhelming than it was when you went to college in your 20s.
You have options available as a mature student that are not available to traditional students. For example, you can:
Apply for FAFSA
Federal Student Aid is available to many students. There are different types of aid with varying eligibility criteria. You can apply online and will receive an aid offer that will help you pay some of the costs towards your degree.
Ask your employer to cover your tuition
Many employers have sponsorship programs to help their employees obtain a college degree. They are generally more common for MBAs. However, it is not unheard of for an employer to sponsor a bachelor’s degree.
You can receive tax deductions and credits if you are in education. This will reduce your income tax and you can put this money towards your college fund.
Scholarships and grants
There is a huge range of scholarships and grants available for adult students. You can look for scholarships and grants relevant to your field or specifically for your college.
Financial Issues with Going Back to College
Even with tax breaks, sponsorships or grants, you will not likely get a totally free ride. You may also have to cut your hours at work, which will reduce your income. However, thanks to online courses and distance learning this is not always the case.
Before you commit to college you should set out a financial plan. Ensure that you can afford to continue your education while also maintaining your bills. You may need to reduce your outgoings and cut back on luxury items to balance the scales.
How to Work Full Time and Go to School
It’s not just financial issues that are concerning you. Your life has overtaken you. Now you are in your 30s, you may be married, have children, and have a mortgage. You have financial and life responsibilities.
Would you be able to manage your life, continue to work and study full-time? Here are some pointers to help you.
Time management is an essential skill for going back to college in your 30s. Carve out time for every aspect of your life; your family, friends, personal time, work, and college. This can seem overwhelming, but if you have set a plan, on paper you will start to see that maybe there are enough hours in the day to do everything.
Create a plan
Set out your goals and plan to achieve them. Decide how much time you will spend on each task you need to complete for college and plan for any big life events such as family visits, vacations or holidays that may interrupt your studies.
Know which program is best for you
Deciding which program to study is essential to maintaining focus. If you don’t have a passion for your study or an understanding of how it will benefit your career, you will find it difficult to keep on top of your studies and carve out time from the rest of your life to complete work for your course.
Calculate your opportunity cost
Every decision you make requires an opportunity cost. You weigh up the negatives and positives of making that decision, and if the positives outweigh the negatives you will often make it. By calculating your opportunity cost, you prevent yourself from having the “if only I would have…” regrets in the future.
What Are Your Alternatives?
A formal college education is no longer the only available option for students. Online and distance learning is becoming more popular, especially with older students who must juggle numerous responsibilities.
You don’t necessarily need to study with a college either. If you are looking to learn a particular skill, online education platforms like Udemy can help you achieve this goal. By learning specific new skills relevant to your job, you can become more valuable to your company, take on new responsibilities, and in turn earn a higher income.
Online education has boomed over the years for several reasons. One of the primary factors is the massive variety of courses you can take. It doesn’t matter where you live or what you want to study, you will be able to find a course to help you. And many of these courses are offered by prestigious universities or platforms that employ experts in their fields to deliver the courses.
Some options for studying online include:
Udemy is an online learning platform with over 30 million students. They have 50,000 instructors teaching courses in over 60 languages, guaranteeing you will find something that you want to study.
Coursera is an online learning platform that was founded by two Stanford professors. They collaborate with over 190 top universities and education providers to offer certification and degrees.
Several colleges offer online learning. For example, Penn State, Arizona State, University of Florida, Colorado State University, and many more.
Going Back to School – Should You?
Going back to school can be a great decision. It can have positive impacts on your career, job, financial future and general well-being from moving into a job you are happier with.
However, going back to school in your 30s is often more difficult than when you go in your 20s. You will already have other commitments in your life from your job and family. Balancing studies with your life in your 30s is not easy and requires planning.
Online studies are a great option and offer more flexibility for people who have busy schedules, and the greater variety of courses means you can focus on learning specific skills necessary to advance in your job and your career.