Five Things Every Adult Should Know About Returning to School

On Monday I chronicled my and Dominic’s journey as a newly married couple while working and completing our degrees. It’s as busy as it sounds :) But, today, I’ve got a few specific tips to share in case you’re considering returning to school.
For almost four years I worked in the education field and I encountered hundreds of students who were working towards their Associates, Bachelors or Masters degrees. If you’re in school now, or planning to enroll, know that you’re not alone – there are so many fine folks doing the same. It’s a laborious task and a decision not to take lightly, but it is so worth it! The big ol’ question I would always pose to students is, “Where will you be this time next year if you do/do not continue your education?” The same questions can be phrased for two years, five years, ten years, etc. The answers were always eye opening and often indicative of the next step. 
So, without further ado, here are my tips …
  1. Know where you want to go. Not literally, more figuratively. Your end career goal will often help determine which degree/school you ought to pursue. If you aren’t sure, but know you want to get started I highly recommend earning a general Associates (which can apply to many different degrees) or a degree with transferable skills like Business. Be sure to research your options. Things like what program formats that will work with your life situation and finances and don’t hesitate to ask questions of those who are already working in your desired field. Find out where they went to school and what type of degrees their employers are seeking. Have a map of your educational journey drawn up with expected cost, time commitment and best of all, expected graduation date. An endless journey is not motivating, but having a plan allows you to work it and work it well.
  2. Plan out your finances. Education is an investment. It often requires a combination of loans, grants and out of pocket expenses. Take out as few loans as you can manage. Don’t live off your loan money and don’t buy a new car with it citing your need for transportation to school. Only take on what you can handle. Promises of $100,000 paychecks are usually too good to be true – rarely do students graduate and walk into those kinds of jobs, it’s usually an upward climb over many years AFTER completing your degree and putting in the time. When calculating your loan debt, be sure you can afford the monthly payment. Completing your degree should be a positive experience, not something that sets your up to fail financially.
  3. Buy used. On the note of finances, if at all possible, buy your textbooks used. Online usually offers the best rates. And, please oh please, when your term is done sell your textbooks to recoup your cost. No matter how much you think you’ll reference them again, you won’t. And since new editions are constantly coming out, the sooner you sell, the more likely you are to make your money back. Worst case scenario, if you truly need or miss a particular text, you can re-buy it. E-books weren’t yet a big thing when I was in school, but weigh that option as well.
  4. Find support. To succeed at any task you need support. Depending on your individual situation this will be unique to you. Do you need consistent and reliable childcare so you aren’t worrying while you’re in class or studying? Do you need a cheerleader who checks in via email asking how your projects are going? Do you need an expert to help you plan your credits? Before making a commitment to school, line up your help and make sure they are on board with your plan.
  5. Just do it! Usually the hardest part about beginning something new is taking the first step. It’s a leap of faith to launch into something new; perhaps you have past fears or failures, maybe you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Whatever might be holding you up, deliberately choose to set aside those obstacles and move forward, fully knowing that your end goal is worth the effort today. I don’t regret earning my degree in the slightest and I’ve yet to encounter someone who says, “Finishing my college degree was a waste of time.” Now, maybe we look back and think we would have done something differently, but no one completes their college education thinking that the time and energy spent investing in themselves was purposeless. You are worth it! In my time working with students I heard many say, “I wish I would have done this sooner” and “I never even imagined the doors that could open”.

What tips would you add from your educational experience?

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  1. says

    Adam and I agree that although I'll be out of the working world for a while (and who knows how I'll re-enter), the benefit of having two college educated parents is priceless. With the combination of both our degrees (sociology and engineering), I feel that our kids will have a well rounded view of how the world works. Adam's favorite thing to say about college was that it taught him how to learn (in addition to the obvious coursework) and that will take him where ever he wants to go :)

  2. says

    Yes – college totally teaches the art of learning!