Adult Learner

Should I go back to school? 5 Questions to consider


It’s not uncommon to reach a point in your career when you realize your current qualifications aren’t quite enough to help you accomplish your professional goals. Maybe you’re eyeing a promotion with your current organization, or you’ve set your sights on something completely new. Now you’re left wondering, “Should I go back to school?”


Enrolling in a degree program today takes a lot more consideration than it did back when you were 18. There are likely a handful of additional factors to keep in mind before you go all in and commit to heading back to college — if you have a family, if you have a looming mortgage payment or if you hope to continue working full time while you study.


You’re certainly not alone. Anyone who’s been in your position before will tell you how complicated this decision-making process can be. That’s why we’ve compiled five questions adult students should ask before deciding to continue their education. See whether your answers to them can help shed some light on whether to go back to school.


5 Questions to ask yourself before going back to school as an adult


1. What are my career goals?

One of the very first things you should do as you contemplate a return to the college classroom is evaluate what your ultimate career goals are. Then, you can ask yourself whether those aspirations can be accomplished with your current educational qualifications.


If you’re currently working in an industry you enjoy, consider meeting with your manager and asking about your future with the organization. Knowing what he or she expects from you in a position you’re hoping to land could give you a clear idea of what your next steps should be.


You might find that earning an advanced degree or participating in some continuing education courses could be a key step in earning the promotion you want. If you’re considering a notable career transition, you may need to obtain education in a new field.  


2. Do I have time to complete a degree program?

As a working professional who may have a family, your weeks are already full of nonnegotiable commitments. Before you start a college or graduate school course load, you should make sure you’ll be able to balance it with the everyday demands of your life.


The great news for busy adults like you is that you’re not far outside the typical college demographics. Today’s average undergraduate college student is changing. Nontraditional students — those who are older than 25, financially independent from their parents and/or working full time while in school — are becoming the norm. Higher education institutions have responded by making degree program formats more flexible than ever.


Graduate and undergraduate students have the option to earn some degrees entirely online. Other degree programs may be offered in a hybrid format, allowing students the flexibility of online learning while also providing some opportunities for face-to-face instruction.


There’s even a new option in the higher education scene: competency-based education (CBE) programs. These online, self-paced programs allow students to move more quickly through their courses if they’ve mastered the material. The subscription tuition model CBE programs like the one at University of Massachusetts Global utilize allow students to pay a flat fee for a certain number of weeks spent in the program. During that time, you can complete as much or as little coursework as you’d like.


3. Can I afford to go back to school?

Flexible, self-paced programs can also help make higher education more affordable. But enrolling in a CBE program isn’t the only way to make going back to school financially feasible. If you’re worried about the cost of continuing your education, there are a number of things you could consider.


As you begin mapping out ways to pay for school, you might speak with your employer about possible financial support. More and more organizations are beginning to offer tuition assistance programs. Investing the newfound skills and expertise you gain from advancing your education into a new position within your existing company can benefit both you and your employer.


If you’re starting a bachelor’s degree from scratch, it’s not a bad idea to save money by beginning at a community college before transferring to a four-year institution. If you’ve already earned your undergraduate degree, you could also look into non-degree opportunities for advancement. Options range from certificates and courses to credentials and authorizations.


4. Will going back to school pay off in the long run?

Upfront cost aside, you’re probably wondering about the potential return on investment (ROI) you’ll see from such a lofty commitment. It can feel impossible to determine whether college will be worth it for you, but there are some statistics out there that can give you a clearer idea of what to expect.


Gallup and Purdue University survey concluded the vast majority of college graduates think their education was worth the cost. In fact, only 4 percent strongly disagreed. It’s also true that adults with a high school diploma see an unemployment rate that is nearly double that of bachelor’s degree-holders.


We used real-time job analysis software to examine nearly 16 million job postings from the past year, and found that those with a bachelor’s degree qualified for more than twice as many job opportunities than those with just a high school diploma.* Add a master’s degree into the mix, and candidates would qualify for an additional 700,000 jobs.


While your specific earnings after advancing your education will be dependent on factors like your industry and geographic location, it’s helpful to note that data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that a person’s salary potential increases as they obtain additional education.


5. How do I know which college is right for me?

Knowing how to choose the best college for your lifestyle needs and career goals can be one of the more complicated questions you’ll have to address. Case in point: A National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report reveals that more than one-third of college students transfer schools before completing their degrees — sometimes more than once.


If you want to choose the right college from the start, look into things like the school’s accreditation status. This serves as a sign that the institution meets or exceeds the minimum standards for a particular program. Potential employers will often value a degree from an accredited institution more than one from a school that hasn’t earned the proper accreditation. In the event that you do end up changing schools at some point, you’ll have an easier time transferring credits if you attend an accredited program.


You can also determine a school’s quality by analyzing graduation and student loan default rates. If graduation rates are low or it appears the institution’s graduates have a difficult time repaying their loans, you may want to look elsewhere. 


Lastly, it’s not a bad idea to look into the faculty members who would be teaching you. Do they work in the fields they teach? Can you find any of their writing published online — if so, do you like what you see? If the program faculty seems like it comprises experts you could learn from, that could be a good sign you’ll have a positive experience earning your degree at that school.


Are you ready to advance your education?

There are a lot of factors that go into answering the question, “Should I go back to school?” But if you consider things like your career goals and your budget, you’ll likely be able to figure out what’s best for you. And if you still feel good about the idea of heading back to college, there’s no better time than now.


Working professionals like you may even be uniquely positioned for success in going back to school. Learn more about how you could be well-suited for the challenge by checking out our article “7 Reasons why adult students actually have an advantage in the classroom.”



*Source: (analysis of 15,989,032 job postings from August 01, 2018 – July 31, 2019)


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