The Decision to Return to School
The decision to return to school is never easy, especially if you've been out of the classroom for a while. Not sure you can do it? Many others are taking the first step… enrollment of nontraditional students is up 30% to 40% in recent years.
Some common reasons for the surge in education among this population include:
- A change in career (often due to job loss)
- A desire to improve job skills (leading to more pay)
- A life transition (such as divorce)
- Personal enrichment
But everyone's situation is unique, and regardless of your reason, going back to school requires a personal commitment. It takes time and money, and if you're working full time or raising a family, you'll have a lot to juggle. Take a look at the big picture to make sure you are comfortable with whatever decision you make.
The Impact on Your Career
Here's a fact: The more education you get, the more your professional life will benefit. And the benefits are multifold:
More job opportunities
More than 60% of the new jobs created in this country each year require at least a bachelor's degree. And by 2012, more than 90% will require education beyond high school.
With more job opportunities comes more choice—choice of position, choice of work hours, choice of job location.
In their lifetime, college graduates earn about $1 million more than high school graduates. For a better idea of what this means, take a look at these median annual salaries from 2009:
- $53,300 for a bachelor's degree
- $39,572 for an associate's degree
- $32,552 for a high school diploma
Lower risk of unemployment
In 2009, the unemployment rates based on degree earned were:
- 5.2% for a bachelor's degree
- 6.8% for an associate's degree
- 9.7% for a high school diploma
And college graduates who get laid off generally find work faster than high school graduates do. The reason? More and more in the United States, there are fewer openings in low-skilled, entry-level jobs.
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The Impact of Your Career on Your Studies
There are advantages and disadvantages to working full time while going to school.
|Advantages of Working||Disadvantages of Working|
Two-thirds of the people who have the dual roles of employee and student consider themselves an employee first, meaning the job takes priority. If this is you, make sure your school work does not suffer.
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The Impact on Your Time
As a nontraditional student, you run the risk of taking on too much when you return to school, increasing the likelihood that you will perform poorly and drop out. In fact, many nontraditional students drop out in their 1st year of study!
Don't let this happen to you. Figure out what you can handle time-wise, and don't overextend yourself.
Work—If you plan to work while going to school, ask your employer if you can have a flexible schedule. About 75% of nontraditional students who work report that their employers offered flexible schedules to accommodate their studies.
School—For every 1 hour you spend in the classroom, expect to spend up to 2 hours on homework, studying, or research. So before you pursue more schooling, work to create a realistic time management plan.
Family—If you are a parent, you may think you don't have time to raise children and go to school. But many schools are finding ways to help nontraditional students manage their family life while pursuing higher education.
A couple of options:
- Check if your school offers child care. With the recent boom in nontraditional students, on-campus child care is becoming more and more common.
- Look into night or weekend classes. It may be easier to find child care during these times.
- Consider taking classes that combine online and in-class instruction, reducing the amount of time you are away from home.
No matter what solution you find, school will definitely limit your available time. You'll need to make an extra effort to set aside some time for life's other responsibilities even when life gets busy.
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The Importance of Goal Setting
Returning to school will increase the number of items on your to-do list, not just this week but for the foreseeable future. The best way to stay focused is to document your goals before you start school and keep them someplace visible.
A couple of tips:
- Make a list of 5–10 long-term goals.
- To help you achieve each long-term goal, identify at least one short-term goal and one immediate goal.
- Assign a specific timeframe to each type of goal. For example, allow 5 years for a long-term goal, 1 year for a short-term goal, and 1 month for an immediate goal.
- Make sure each goal is measurable. That is, don't just say you want to earn good grades, say you want to earn a 3.0 or better.
- Identify goals that you yourself want to achieve, not goals that others think you should achieve.
Here are some examples:
|If your long-term goal is…||Then a short-term goal may be…||And an immediate goal may be…|
|Get my associate's degree||Take two classes this year||Request a course catalog from a local school|
|Get a job making $10,000 more than I do now||Visit my school's career placement center once a month to discuss career options||Identify three jobs that have starting salaries in the range I'm looking for|
|Finish school with less than $8,000 in additional debt||Find and apply for 10 scholarships and/or grants||Total up all of my current debt|
By identifying your long-term goals and breaking them down into smaller goals, you can create a plan that should be easy to implement and manage. Remember to always keep your eye on your goals, especially if you ever feel overwhelmed.
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- Be patient. On average, it takes longer for a nontraditional student to earn a degree (usually more than 5 years) than it does for a traditional student.
For many people, college was long thought of as a privilege offered only to those who could afford the time and the tuition. In these cases, learning would take a back seat to work or family, and the concept of earning a degree would feel forever out of reach.
That’s changed, fortunately, as online learning has created new opportunities for students anywhere in the world. Recently, Ashford University polled its students on Facebook, asking them to explain their reasons for going back to school. From more than 150 responses, familiar trends began to appear, and the reasons became as diverse as Ashford’s student body.
1) Getting Ahead
Learning new skills and putting oneself in position for career advancement ranked among the most common reasons given for returning to school.
As student Carol Harrington put it, school is necessary to keep up with technology or “we will be lost in the shuffle of being uneducated and jobless.”
Another student, Samantha Leonard, replied, “I am going to school because I am not satisfied with settling for the average – struggle daily and do what is expected – life that I was stuck in for many years.”
2) Personal Achievement
Many respondents said school was a gift they wanted to give themselves, citing the desire to become a better, more educated person as their reason for enrolling in college.
“I think for me it was mostly about challenging myself and just furthering my education,” said Tari Jacobson, a teacher and Ashford student. “Sure, it’s nice to make more money, but for me it was never about money.”
3) Making Up For Lost Time
The path from high school to college isn’t always a straight line, and many times students who are on that route are detoured by work or family commitments. Making the decision to return to school as an adult can be a life-changing experience.
“I have been procrastinating for many years,” said Narda Elizabeth Patino. “I think that now is the time for me.”
“I am going to school to finish what I started,” replied Lisa Foster. “Leaving things undone is the worst kind of regret.”
Many adult learners who said they’d been putting off school for too long added that their children would benefit from their success in more ways than one.
4) For Your Children
“I need to set an example to my 23-year-old son, so he too can pursue an education,” said student Narda Patino.
Students who became parents before they became graduates often mentioned their children as reasons to return to school.
“I want to set an example for my 16-year-old son,” student Rogina Gray-Bryant replied. “I hope to inspire him to do great things and do them no matter what obstacles he faces.”
Another student, Amanda Rousseau, wrote, “I decided to return to school to have a chance at creating a better life for my family and to prove to my son that anything is possible with hard work and the right attitude.”
5) To Be First In Your Family
Being the first in your family to earn a degree means you’ll set the standard for future generations, and it doesn’t matter what age you finish school.
Christina Bean, a student who is also a grandmother, said being the first in her family to earn her degree would change her life and theirs as well. And she wasn’t afraid to go for it even after she “failed” at high school.
“I’m going to school to show my grandson that working hard is worth it,” she said.
6) To Fulfill A Promise
Generations of parents who never had access to school have instilled upon their children the importance of going to college and earning a degree.
Student Melissa Midkiff shared her story of a loved one who passed away in hospice, and the promise she made to go to school and work toward improving the conditions for patients and families dealing facing similar struggles.
She now wants to become a patient advocate, saying, “I would love to help other families receive better care in the future.”
7) Because You’re Never Too Old
While an adult learner may feel out of place in a traditional college, online learning breaks down those barriers, creating opportunities for students of all ages. Many respondents admitted they felt “too old” to return to school at first, but their attitude quickly changed when they realized how much an education meant to their lives.
“I have a friend [say] ‘you’re not too old to start on your degree,’” said Knox JuAnita Durely Hill. “So, here I am today earning my BA in Early Education.”
Venicia Kane replied, “I went back to prove even ‘old mom’ – age 46 – could finish my first BA. I am now 52 and have my MBA.”
While many of the students gave similar reasons for returning to school, one overarching theme became apparent in the responses: the future. No one could predict how things were going to turn out with family or their career, but all of the students were confident they’d made the right decision to go back to school, no matter what may happen.
You can read the complete thread of responses on Ashford University’s Facebook page.
Written by Jason R. Latham, Content Manager for Bridgepoint Education