There are many middle aged adults who see further education as a path to a better paying career or an opportunity to pursue new interests. However, with the ever-rising cost of higher education, it’s important to decide: Is it worth taking on debt to go back to school?
If you are asking yourself this question, here are some tips to help you make your decision:
- Try one class and see how it goes. It may seem like a big cost up front, but being able to “try on a class for size” may give you the motivation and desire to pursue a new certificate or degree, or you might realize that school is not for you.
- See if your current company will pay for classes. Many companies allocate funds for employee professional development. If a degree or certification will enhance your work and their business model, then it is a win-win for both you and the organization
- Weigh the costs and ask hard questions. How much will it cost to go back to school? What if you have to quit your current job and go full-time? Can you go to school part-time? Are you a stay-at-home spouse looking to get into a professional field now that the kids are in school? Is the career field you are looking to enter a high demand career field where you can easily get a job once you complete your education? Analyze the entry level salaries of those jobs in your area including the cost of student loans. Sit down with a professional counselor to do a budget with your current situation and then do a budget of how much you could make in a new career field while paying off student loans.
- Contact a few different schools that offer your program of interest. Speak directly with their financial aid offices and see what they can offer in scholarships and grants.
- File your FAFSA and apply for scholarships and grants. Your first visit should be to the official FAFSA website since colleges often require this to be completed before they will offer you other scholarships. There are many other platforms to search for scholarships as well. Here is a list to get you going: Edudaris, Fastweb, Collegenet, SuperCollege. By no means is this list exhaustive but it provides a good diving board into the world of available scholarships.
- Speak to others who have taken that leap and listen to their advice. They have personal experiences to help you both academically, professionally, and financially. Ask your prospective schools for recent graduates’ names from your prospective field of interest.
- Get the support of your family and friends.
Going back to school can be a daunting and exciting opportunity. Don’t let fear or the cost of the unknown prevent you from bettering yourself and your family.
Guest Contributor: Ester Johnson, AFC®