If your time in college was cut short and you’re considering going back, you might be asking yourself, “Should I finish my degree online or in person? Is it even worth it? And how will I make it work?”
You’re not alone. In the U.S., nearly a third of college freshmen drop out before their sophomore year, and very few return later to complete their degrees.
Going back to school is intimidating, but there are ways to make it fit into your schedule and budget. And the hard work will be worth it because a college degree will help you earn more money and advance in your career now and in the future!
Is it too late to finish my degree?
Am I too old to go back to college?
When you picture college students, you probably think of 18 to 19-year-olds living in cramped dorm rooms, pulling all-night cram sessions, and partying on the weekends.
While it’s true that most college students are fresh out of high school, that’s not always the case. More and more adults – people who have been out of school for 10, 20, even 30 or more years – are now going back to college.
Data from 2019 indicates that the average age of a part-time undergraduate student is 27.2 years old. The National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2020 that there were 7.5 million students over the age of 25 enrolled in college.
These older students may be enrolling in college for the first time, finishing a degree they started years ago or earning a second or third degree to set them up for a big promotion or a career change.
No matter why they are back in college, and no matter how old they are, all college students are there for the same reason: to ensure a successful future. It’s never too late for that!
Why should I finish my degree if I already have a career I like?
If you’re already in a career that is rewarding both personally and financially, it may seem unnecessary to go back and finish your degree.
You might think, “Why is it important to finish college – and invest all that time, effort, and money – when I’m perfectly happy in my career?”
But a degree can make what is good, better.
Your degree will prove to your employer that you have the knowledge and training needed to do the job. And the fact that you went back to school to complete it will show that you are motivated, disciplined and hard-working.
Your degree is going to help you stand out to management so that you can earn more money and apply for more advanced positions.
Is a degree really necessary to advance in my career?
Chances are, it is! The job market is changing quickly. More people are vying for jobs, and employers are looking for the most educated and qualified candidates.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that of the 790 professions they profiled, only 322 listed a high school diploma as the minimum education standard. Most preferred candidates with college experience, especially those who had completed a degree program.
It might seem that your experience and seniority are enough to help you advance, but in today’s world, employers expect candidates to have a degree. Without it, you may not be able to reach the salary range or position you’re hoping for.
Is it harder to go back to college/school later in life?
How will I balance my career, my family, and going back to school?
If you work full-time and/or have a family to care for, adding school on top of that may seem impossible. But it’s not!
Colleges are well aware of the number of adults going back to school, and the many other responsibilities those adults have. To help support students, colleges now offer a variety of options that make it possible to fit your education around your existing schedule. For example:
- Night and weekend courses – if you want to learn on campus, just not during the day
- Online programs – if you need the flexibility to “go to class” whenever and wherever you are
- Hybrid programs – if you need a combination of online and on-campus classes
- Accelerated programs – if your goal is to finish quickly (Accelerated programs may be available in night/weekend, online or hybrid formats.)
In addition to finding a schedule that works, it’s important that you have a network of people supporting you. Discuss your goals with your family, friends, coworkers, and your employer, and let them know what specific things they can do to help lighten your load.
Will I be able to transfer the credit I already earned?
If you attended college previously or earned college credit in some other way, that credit should transfer.
Credits earned at regionally accredited universities, and those in general education subjects (math, science, history), are the most likely to transfer. But each school has its own policies and limitations, so check the school’s website and reach out to the admissions department with questions.
To get the most out of the credits you have earned, and to save time and money, look for schools that offer degree completion programs. Degree completion programs are specifically designed for adults who started but have not completed a four-year undergraduate degree.
Also, be sure to review your professional experience with an admissions counselor, and let him or her know about any relevant credentials or licenses you have earned or training you have completed. This experience may translate into credit hours or allow you to skip or test out of certain courses.
What are the benefits of finishing my degree?
If you’re constantly spinning your wheels and asking yourself “Should I finish my degree?” the answer is probably yes.
There are so many good reasons to finish college! For example:
- Promotion / Pay Raise: Studies have shown that workers with college degrees earn significantly more money over their lifetime than those with no degree. According to College Board, in 2018 median earnings of full-time workers with bachelor’s degrees were $24,900 higher than earnings of those with just a high school education. That’s a significant gap!
- Job opportunities: If you were to lose your job, you may have a hard time finding a new one without a degree. Because more and more people are earning college degrees these days, employers are becoming increasingly selective. In many industries, even entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree.
- Career change: Going back to school opens the door for you to reevaluate and consider other options. If you’re not passionate about the field you’re in, it’s the perfect time to select a different major and earn your degree in something that will launch you into an exciting new career path!
- Update skills: If you are already working in the field, you probably have a good idea of what knowledge and skills are most relevant. Going back to school will allow you to focus on those areas and make sure your training is current. This is especially beneficial in career fields that are rapidly changing, like technology or healthcare.
- Networking opportunities: In college – online or in-person – you have opportunities to connect with professors, assistants, guest speakers, classmates, and others who are or will be working in the same industry. These professional connections can later become valuable references and resources that help you advance in your career.
- Sense of accomplishment: Professional perks aside, the sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing something through to the end and achieving your goal is profound. It will feel good to call yourself a college graduate. It’s something to be proud of!
Finishing your degree is truly a game-changer. The benefits will impact your personal and professional life, and open doors for you immediately and for years to come.
What are the benefits of finishing my degree online?
Should I finish my bachelor’s degree through an online, hybrid, or on-campus program?
There are advantages and disadvantages to all 3 of these learning formats, and what works best for one student may not for another.
Fully online programs offer the most flexibility in terms of when and where you can study, which is especially appealing to adult learners who may also be working full-time and raising a family. However, in order to be successful in this type of format, you must be incredibly disciplined and well organized.
Traditional, on-campus degree programs provide the structure and interaction that most students are accustomed to. But the class schedules are not flexible, so it can be difficult to make it work around existing commitments.
Hybrid programs, of course, combine both online and in-person learning. This is often the best – and only – option for students in fields like science and healthcare that require lab work and other hands-on training.
In order to determine which of the 3 learning environments is best for you, you will need to think about your schedule, your goals, and your learning style. Get a deeper look at the pros and cons of online and in-person learning.
Will I have the opportunity to interact with my online professors and classmates?
As an asynchronous online student, you may not have the opportunity to interact live with your professors and classmates. But that doesn’t mean you won’t engage with them!
Most online courses will require you to log in and participate in discussion forums on a regular basis. By asking and answering questions, commenting, and having natural conversations, you will engage with your classmates virtually.
Will finishing my degree online be less disruptive to my family, job and lifestyle?
Going back to school to finish your degree is a big commitment, and it can be a disruption to other areas of your life.
Online, asynchronous programs are generally the least disruptive because you can fit your classes and study around your existing commitments. You will not likely have to make substantial changes in your life in order to complete your degree online.
But even the most flexible online degree program will likely have some impact on other areas of your life. You will need the people around you to be patient and supportive.
Remember: This disruption is temporary, and finishing your degree will be worth the small sacrifices!
How do I go about finishing my degree?
Where can I finish my degree online?
If you started college as a traditional, on-campus student, you might check to see if the school now offers an online degree completion program in your field. But if they don’t, or you are looking for something different, you have options!
You can find excellent online degree completion programs at many accredited colleges that also operate brick-and-mortar campuses, such as the University of Florida, University of Massachusetts, CUNY School of Professional Studies, Drexel University, and Ball State University.
You can also find excellent online degree completion programs at accredited online-only colleges like Franklin University and Liberty University.
To choose the online degree completion program that’s best for you, here is what you should look for:
- Accreditation – Be sure the school is accredited. This means the program meets strict academic standards, you will be eligible for federal financial aid, and the degree you earn will be recognized and respected.
- Transfer policy – Check out the school’s policy for transferring credit to ensure that any college credit you earned previously will count toward your degree.
- Program / Major – While many schools offer degree completion programs, they each typically have a limited selection. You may need to look around to find a program in your chosen field that will closely align with your career goals./li>
- Format – Online programs may be synchronous (live) or asynchronous (on your own schedule). They may be self-paced, follow traditional semesters, or be accelerated. Look for the format that will best suit your schedule and learning style./li>
- Supports – Make sure that the online program you choose provides access to advisors, mentors, tech support, and so on.
If finishing your degree online is your goal, you should have no trouble finding a program that can help you do so in a way that works for you.
What is the schedule like for finishing my degree online?
Online learning offers a tremendous amount of flexibility.
While there are some online degree programs that have set class times when you must be online, most are taught asynchronously, meaning you can do your coursework whenever you’d like. Whether it’s the early morning, on your lunch break, or late at night – it’s up to you!
But keep in mind that online courses do still have expectations and due dates. For example, you may be expected to contribute to an online discussion forum a few times per week, and have weekly quizzes to submit by midnight each Friday.
The overall pace or course load of the program can also vary. There are accelerated programs for those who want to speed through the remaining courses and complete their degree quickly, and there are slower-paced options for those who can only fit one or two classes into their schedule at a time.
How many classes can you take at one time? / What is a typical course load?
There are several variables to consider before you determine how many classes you will take at a time.
First, consider your existing schedule and how many hours per day or week you have to devote to classes and studying. The general rule of thumb is that for every hour of class time, you should expect to spend 2-3 hours studying. That will vary, but it’s a helpful tip to keep in mind.
Second, consider the types of classes you need to complete. Research, math, and writing courses tend to require more time. Subjects that are particularly challenging for you may also require more time.
Finally, the program’s format will be an important consideration. Many online degree programs offer accelerated formats. Rather than the traditional 16-week term structure, students take 2-3 courses at a time in sessions that last 10, 8, or even just 6-weeks. These programs can be quite rigorous, and they don’t allow for seasonal breaks. But they are an excellent way to earn your degree quickly!
Are you ready to finish your degree?
After months or even years of asking yourself “Should I finish my degree,” hopefully you have your answer.
Although you may feel too old, too busy, or too settled in your career, it is never too late to go back to school to finish what you started. Once you have that degree, you will be able to earn more and advance further in your career – ensuring a better, brighter future!