Perhaps you’re bored with life because your children have moved out of the house, or you retired early, or you were laid off from your job. If you’re 55, you might be wondering: what options do I have? Where do I go from here?
Can I go back to school at 55? Absolutely. You have plenty of time to earn your degree and work at least ten years after graduating. You do need to put some extra thought into going back, however. Complications with finances, time, and job prospects could be a reason to pursue a different course for your future.
If you’re passionate about learning or determined to get that career you’ve always wanted, you’re in great shape to go back to school. This article will discuss several reasons why going back to earn a degree is worthwhile, what you need to do to go back, and some things you should consider.
What to Consider Before You Go
Life is full of opportunities, which may be one of the reasons you’re thinking about going back to school as an adult. If you’re unhappy with your career or need to take a different direction, going back to school can be just what you need. There are several factors you should consider before you go back. College is a life-changing decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially if you’re returning as an adult.
As an adult, you probably have more obligations than you did in your early twenties. Your current job, children, grandchildren, and chores can all get in the way of studying. You need to ask yourself:
- Do I have the time to go back to school?
- What obligations will prevent me from studying or turning in essays on time?
- Will I need to take morning or night classes?
- Will I take classes on campus or online?
Another aspect of time to consider: how many working years do you have left? If you plan on earning a B.A., expect to spend up to 5 years in school. AARP suggests that you work at least ten years after graduating so you can pay off your student debt and make enough money so that the hard work pays off.
College can be expensive, so you need to make sure you’ll be able to afford it. If you are able to work for several years after earning your degree, then it will pay off. Financial aid and scholarships make education affordable for students of any age. Fortunately, there are many scholarships for adults that you can apply for.
Think about your long term financial situation, as well.
- Do you have enough money in your savings?
- Will you have a steady source of income?
- Will you be able to continue supporting your dependents?
Is the Degree Worth It?
AARP suggests doing the math to determine if going to school is worth the time and money you put into earning the degree. Look up numbers such as how much will going to school cost and what the typical salary is for the profession you’re studying for in your city. If you go to school to become a kindergarten teacher only to find out that kindergarten teachers in your area make very little money, it might not be worth the investment.
But, money shouldn’t be your only determining factor. If you’re passionate about the subject you’re thinking about studying for, and you’re certain you want to go back to school, then it’s probably worth taking a chance.
What You Need to Do to Go Back to School
You might feel a little lost when you go back to school as an adult. Where do you start?
While it may be different for each college, here are some basic guidelines to help point you in the right direction.
- Decide on your degree. Be certain you know which school you want to attend, what you want to study, and which degree you want to earn (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, etc.). Here is a list of career paths that have promising futures for new adult graduates.
- Find your transcripts. If you previously attended college, you might be able to get some of your credits transferred.
- Complete pre-admission testing. You may need to take placement exams for reading, writing, and math. Adult learners typically aren’t required to take the ACT or SAT exams.
- Apply for admission online. Apply as a transfer student if you previously attended college. You might be able to get some of your credits transferred.
- Apply for financial aid and scholarships. FAFSA is a federally-funded program that often provides scholarships and loans to adult students who are returning to school. Using this program, along with other scholarships, will make your degree more affordable for you.
- Test out of classes. CLEP exams allow you to skip taking classes if you pass them. The College Board website allows you to see which schools offer them, locate test centers, and register for exams.
- Register for classes online. Think about if you have the time to be a full-time or part-time student. Remember that homework often involves extensive reading, writing, and group projects. A full-time student typically takes 4-5 classes.
Why Should I Go Back to School?
Going back to school as an adult has many benefits. Some of them are practical, while others are personal. If you’re not fully sold on the idea, consider the following:
Your Maturity Will Help You
Everyone says college is difficult, and it’s true, but a 55-year-old has more wisdom and willpower than an 18-year-old. You’ve had time to mature, which means you’ll spend less time procrastinating and partying and more time studying. Plus, your time is more valuable to you since you probably have a job and a family, so getting your homework done will be your top priority.
You’ll also be able to bring new perspectives into the classroom, which are typically filled with 20-year-olds and sometimes a young professor. You can use your experiences to bring new ideas to the discussion that many in the room may not have considered before.
Better Job Opportunities
Your reason for going back to school is probably to find a better job. Even if you have to job hunt for a while after graduating, your job prospects with a degree are far better than if you don’t have one.
Since you’re going back to school with a job or field in mind, you’ll know where to look and will have the proper education for your desired career. College will allow you to expand your professional network of contacts, so you might be able to get to know someone within your desired field and be able to get your foot in the door.
Besides, most employers will at least be really impressed when finding out that you decided to go back to school and get a degree at 55!
Going back to school can fill you with pride, and that’s okay! College is a big accomplishment, especially if you’re juggling a family, a job, and other responsibilities along with it.
If you’re considering school because the nest is empty or you’re bored, it will give you a sense of purpose. Plus, education is a great way to keep the mind active as you get older. Once you have a degree, you can keep your mind agile with a great new career for several years.
Going back to school when you’re 55 is completely possible. Before you head back to the classroom, be sure to do some financial planning, research job prospects, and make sure you’re fully committed before you take the plunge.
- AARP: 10 Careers Worth Going Back to School For
- AARP: 6 Questions to Ask Before You Go Back to School
- Colorado Christian University: 8 Benefits of Going Back to School as an Adult
- Forbes: 5 Reasons To Go Back To College After 50
- Indeed Community: 55 and considering going back to school
- My College Guide: Are You Thinking About Going Back to School as an Adult?