Ask a College Advisor: Is 40 Too Late to Go Back to School?
Question: Is 40 too late to go back to school?
Answer: It's never too late to go back to school! Adult learners are a growing population within higher education. So if you choose to head back to the classroom, you won't be alone. In fact, data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that about 1 in 12 students in postsecondary education is over the age of 40.
Many adults are choosing to go back to school to increase their annual salary or make a career change. However, as a nontraditional student with other commitments and priorities, making the decision to obtain a new degree can be intimidating.
Thinking about going back to college as an adult learner? Here are some considerations for your college search and tips for making the most of your experience.
If you're contemplating whether you should go back to college, a great place to start is to reflect on what this new degree will help you accomplish. Are you seeking a promotion at your current job, changing careers, or finishing a degree that you started but never completed?
Going back to school is a commitment, so be specific about your purpose and motivation to ensure that this degree will help you achieve your goals.
Find the Right Fit
Consider which type of school or program will be best suited for your goals and needs. Do you want an online program? Do you learn best with face-to-face instruction? Are you looking for smaller class sizes? Do you want a school close to home?
Schools and academic programs come in all shapes and sizes. Make a list of your priorities to help you narrow down your choices. Once you've found a few good options, try to schedule a meeting with an admissions counselor, faculty member, or academic advisor at the prospective schools on your list. Find out how their programs will help you reach your goals.
You can also ask if there are other adult learners in the program. Some schools may be able to connect you with current students or alumni with similar backgrounds who can share their experiences in the program. By connecting one on one with college staff, faculty members, and/or current students, you can receive individualized advice to help you make the right decision.
Balancing Other Priorities
As an adult learner, you may have other priorities. These can include working a full-time job, being a single parent or primary caregiver, or balancing other community obligations. Find out how your prospective school supports students with these commitments. For example, do they offer on-campus childcare, options for evening or weekend classes, or the ability to study part time?
Join a Community
You may feel out of place at times if your college is made up of mostly traditional-age students in their late teens and early 20s. But don't let that stop you! Many graduate programs, online programs, and two-year community colleges have higher populations of students with diverse age ranges and life experiences. You may be able to build community and find support there.
Find classmates who share similar experiences. And take advantage of opportunities to build stronger relationships with faculty and staff members. Creating this community will help you make the most of your college experience. It also can provide you with lifelong friendships and a network for your future.
If you decide that returning to school is the right decision for you, it's time to own it! Your life experiences and maturity are assets. They will help you better navigate the college system and achieve academic success.
You have more personal or career experiences to draw from in the classroom than younger students. You also will be better equipped to ask for help when needed. So gather support from your friends and family, create a plan, and get back to school!
Lauren Albano is the assistant director and designated school official at Seattle University's International Student Center. She advises international students and alumni on maintaining F-1 status. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Irvine and a master's degree in student development administration from Seattle University.
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