Is Going Back to College Worth It?
Are you going back to college for the right reasons?
Today, more and more adults are going back to college to pursue certificates and degrees that will help transition or improve their careers.
But college is a huge investment, so it’s important to plan. You will need to choose a field that’s growing, find the right program for you and consider how you will pay for it.
We’ve got answers to your tough questions, plus more questions for you to ponder to help you determine whether more education is the best way to get ahead!
Going back to college is a major commitment, in terms of time, effort and expense. It’s not something to take lightly, and you should be sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
Do not go back to school because you are frustrated at work or bored in life. Don’t go back “because you hate your job,” “because college was fun/easy for you,” “because you’re not sure what you want to do with your life” or “because you really need a change.” These complaints are fleeting and may be resolved by taking up a hobby or switching employers.
The only scenarios in which it makes sense to go back to college are:
- To switch fields long-term/permanently
- To gain experience or credentials that will help in your current career (i.e. take on new responsibilities, earn a promotion or raise)
This decision should take a lot of serious thought and reflection. It may be helpful to discuss the idea with friends, family and/or your employer to be sure it’s the right decision.
Does going back to school make financial sense? How will you pay for it?
Degrees aren’t cheap, and you likely have more expenses than a traditional 18-year-old who’s just starting college. You may already own a home and/or have a family to support, for example. You need to make sure that this decision is worth the expense, and that you can afford it.
If you do go back to school, it should be an investment that pays off, meaning your income will increase even while you are paying for your education. Consider the following:
- How long will you be in the workforce after graduation?
- What is the salary expectation after earning a degree, as compared to what you are currently able to make without it?
- What is the growth outlook for employment in the field?
The goal, of course, is to increase your earnings, not simply end up at a wash after paying student loans.
But not all students have to take out loans. There are financial aid programs available!
Once you’ve decided that going back to college is worth the investment, start out by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA opens the door to federal and other types of aid, and it’s open to everyone regardless of age. You might think you won’t qualify for assistance, but the fact is, most students do.
After that, you can begin looking for scholarships and grants to go back to school. As an adult learner, you may be eligible for many of the same opportunities as traditional students, plus additional opportunities specifically for adults.
To search for scholarships and grants for adult education, you can look to:
- Search sites, such as Sallie Mae’s free Scholarship Search, College Board, Scholarships.com and FastWeb.com
- Your employer
- Your college
To learn more about scholarships for adult students going back to school, click here.
Should you take classes online or on campus?
For most adult learners, online courses make the most sense. They offer the flexibility necessary for students to maintain their jobs, families and other commitments.
While on-campus students may struggle with long commutes, parking hassles, or conflicts with child care, business meetings, an illness (yours or a loved ones’) – these issues aren’t so problematic for online learners.
Some of the benefits of online learning include:
- Flexibility to fit classes around your schedule
- Ability to work at your own pace, via accelerated programs or by spreading it out
- Access to programs around the world
- May be less expensive
Today, there are more than 23,000 fully online, accredited degree programs available at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and certificate levels. These programs are offered by online-only colleges as well as reputable brick-and-mortar schools such as Purdue University, Colorado State University, and University of Massachusetts.
Online learning is definitely not a fad, and it may be just the right fit for your busy life!
Should you pursue a degree or just a certificate?
This, of course, depends on your goals, your previous education and your particular field.
A certification is usually less expensive and takes less time, and is particularly common in fields like technology, healthcare and education. It can help prepare you to get a license, if that’s what your field requires. It can also be helpful if you need to “brush up” on changes in your field, technological or otherwise.
But many career fields require a degree. You won’t likely land a job as a web developer, physical therapist or marketing executive with only a certificate under your belt.
To find out what level of education is necessary to enter into the profession you’re interested in, look it up in the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
How should you choose an online program?
As an adult student, you likely already know what to go back to school for, but finding the best programs for adults going back to college may be a bigger challenge.
Some things you to keep in mind as you look for the best online program:
- Are there any instances when you will need to be on campus / at an event nearby?
- How will classes fit into your schedule?
- How long will the program take?
- Is the school accredited?
- Is the school / program highly regarded in the field? Will it prepare you to move into the profession right away?
- Will you have the support you need at the time of day you need it? (i.e. technical help, tutors, access to library)
- What kind of financial aid is available through the school / program?
- What is the graduation rate?
- What types of jobs do graduates have now?
Take the time to answer these questions and evaluate each program fairly, so you can be sure you’re selecting the best online program for your future.
Should you enroll full-time or part-time?
This, of course, depends on your schedule.
Full-time enrollment and accelerated programs can help you graduate faster, but it will require some sacrifices in other areas of your life. You may have to scale back at work – working part-time rather than full-time – to make time for a full load of classes and coursework.
But if scaling back at work isn’t an option, there is always part-time enrollment. It will slow down the process, taking you longer to earn that certificate or degree, but it will allow you to maintain your current level of involvement in your career and other commitments.
Some students opt to change their status throughout their education, taking some full-time semesters and some part-time. Whatever you choose, be sure to know the enrollment requirements of any financial aid you are receiving.
Top 11 Industries Worth Going Back to College For
Certain industries tend to offer a higher return on investment than others, meaning the time, effort and expense of going back to college is more likely to pay off. ThoughtCo.com suggests students consider the following eleven growing industries…
1 – Information Technology
No surprise here; The tech field is one of the fastest growing industries! If you’re an excellent problem solver and communicator and you’re ready to jump in, you will need at least an associate’s degree. Because technology is changing so rapidly, it may also be necessary to complete additional classes and/or certification programs throughout your career.
In this industry, you could work on rebuilding and maintaining aircrafts, guided missiles, space vehicles and more. The workforce is aging, though, which means new professionals are in high demand. To start off, you will likely need a two-year degree, and perhaps an apprenticeship. Expect continued training to keep up on technology, but that may be provided by your employer.
3 – Healthcare
Those who are compelled to help others may be drawn to healthcare, a field expected to grow 14% through 2028, adding another 1.9 million jobs. Whether you’re interested in becoming a surgeon or physician, a nurse practitioner or home health care aide, you will need an education – be it a certificate, license or degree.
4 – Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
Consultants come in to help advise companies on how to solve problems and operate more efficiently. They may offer a particular expertise in law, training, recruiting, risk assessment, financial planning, technology or any number of other areas. The level of education necessary will depend heavily on your area of expertise.
5 – Biotechnology
This growing field includes genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, virology, and biochemical engineering. If you excel in the STEM subjects, a degree in biotechnology or a closely related field can help you earn close to six figures.
In this varied field you could work with natural gas, petroleum, electricity, oil, coal and more. To get into engineering technology, a two year degree may suffice, but those working in petroleum research, for example, may need a Ph.D. Growth is expected throughout the field, with wind turbine technicians looking at 57% growth by 2028 and many professionals making more than $100,000 per year.
7 – Financial Services
Whether you’re interested in banking, security and commodities or insurance, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree to make it in this field. You may also need additional licensing, depending on your position. Statisticians and mathematicians can expect to make around $88,000 per year and see the field grow by 30% by 2028.
8 – Geospatial Technology
A love of maps and science will take you far in this rapidly growing field, but you will need a degree or certification. Two careers in this field – cartography and photogrammetry – are expected to be among the top 20 fastest growing occupations through 2028.
9 – Hospitality
This is a field you can jump into without much education, but a certification, two-year degree or bachelor’s degree will help you move into a management position quickly. Full service restaurants alone are expected to add one million jobs by 2028.
Here again a postsecondary degree isn’t a requirement, but it can help launch you into a management position with much higher earning potential. The retail industry is booming and employers are especially interested in applicants who hold a degree.
11 – Transportation
The global industry includes trucking, air, railroad, passenger transit, scenic and sightseeing, and water. Different occupations have vastly different requirements, but you will likely need to attend a specific school or training program and become licensed in the field.