According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 4 million adults who are 35 and older are enrolled in a degree-granting institution. Workers return to school for several reasons: to get a new credential will make them more “marketable,” to help them land a higher-paid position, or just to hold onto the job they have in an increasingly competitive environment.
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But before you go ahead and enroll yourself in a degree or certificate program, here are some tips that will help you make an informed decision.
- Define your career goals. What do you want to do and how can higher education help you do it? Try to be as clear in your goals as possible. Do a lot of research on all available programs and be clear about whether each can help you achieve your aims.
- Talk to your manager. Most managers are very supportive of continuing education. Some companies even fund advanced learning and accommodate schedules of key talent. Before making a decision about what to study or where to attend, get some advice from your manager on how your education could aid in your and the company’s success.
- Explore online options. Let’s face it, studying with a day job requires a lot of commitment – time and money. You will have to prioritize and re-prioritize your personal commitments to fulfill your professional goals. While an advanced degree is great, evaluate whether you could achieve the same result through a certification or an online course. Get your family on board. Once you have everybody invested in your goal, your chances of success are higher.
- Consider community college: Attending private university is going to be expensive if you do not fulfill the financial aid criteria. Community colleges can be a great option for updating your job skills. Also, they provide flexible hours, part-time courses, online courses, and technology support in addition to the certification courses.
- Estimate costs: The U.S. Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator offers an easy way to compare the cost of a degree from different schools. To determine the ROI of a given degree or institution, check out PayScale’s College Salary Report.
- Explore financial aid and scholarship options. Take a look at the university’s scholarship and grants programs. Talk to the funding committee and program staff. You could be eligible for some kind of scholarship (veterans, returning moms, etc.) or other favorable financial arrangements. Check out Finaid, Fastweb, Studentscholarshipsearch.com, or Scholarships.com for other options. Speak with your HR representative to see if your company sponsors any part of your educational program.
- Network: Talk to colleagues who’ve gone back to school and professionals in the field you are trying to gain expertise in, and learn from their experiences. You will be surprised at all the information you get from your conversations.
- Commit to the program. Once you’ve enrolled, you have to be disciplined about managing your schedule. You still need to be productive on your job. Even if your company is very supportive, the expectation is your job responsibilities will not be compromised.
This is going to be tough, and it is a big deal, but it is not impossible. Here’s wishing you the very best of luck for your trip back to school.
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