(BPT) – Returning to school later in life is a decision that requires careful thinking. As an adult, you must consider many factors before signing up for a second – or first – round of post-secondary education. Many students who chose to go straight to college in their late teens or even early 20s had fewer responsibilities at the time, but as an adult you may have a family, a full-time job or even student loan debt from your previous degree to consider.
If you are uncertain of whether to make the commitment, you are not alone. As you weigh the benefits of returning to school against the challenges and costs, keep these points in mind:
Clearly outline your goals
Identifying why you want to go back to school is the first step. Do you feel like you’re stuck in a rut and want to further your abilities in your current role? Do you want to switch careers entirely? Or do you want to finish that degree that you started years ago? Pinpointing your impetus will allow you to clearly state your objective and decide on a program that is right for you. In 2013, bachelor’s degree holders receive $1,108 as a median weekly wage for full-time employment while those workers who hold only a high school diploma received $651 as a median weekly wage for full-time employment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Advanced degrees may yield even greater financial benefits, with master’s degree holders earning up to $221 per week more than those with bachelor’s degrees, according to the BLS data.
Give it a test run
Knowing what you’ve signed up for is crucial to being comfortable with your decision. Reduce uncertainty by going for a trial run. Easing back into an educational setting may take some getting used to, so if you are still unsure whether going back to school is right for you look for a trial program. Western International University (West), for example, allows prospective students to take their first class without having to commit themselves to an entire program. If you like the class, you can move forward with the program and pay $200 for that first three-credit class. If you decide that the timing isn’t right or the program isn’t for you, you can walk away without any financial obligation.
Analyze the costs and benefits
Cost always plays a part in the decision-making process. Investing in your education is exactly that: an investment. To assess whether the investment is a worthy one, consider the average salary of the career you are contemplating and how much you will gain from returning to school. Compare this number to the cost of the education, and be sure to account for tuition, fees and textbooks.
Consider your schedule
Between your current job and your family commitments, it is important to consider where school will fit into the equation. Schools like West are built specifically for working adults, so you can rest easily knowing that the learning process is designed to fit into your busy schedule. “Earning a degree is a huge time commitment, but it can be attainable if you approach it with the right structure for optimal learning,” said Tracy Lorenz, President of Western International University. Following a pattern of “Learn, Practice, Apply,” students are able to watch a series of 10-minute video lectures every week, practice with quizzes and exercises, engage online with instructors and fellow students, and apply their knowledge to real-world situations through weekly assignments. It is beneficial, too, to seek out professors who are also practitioners. They will be better equipped to give students advice for the modern-day work environment. Because all the course material is available online, you can complete your weekly coursework and “go to school” when you have time throughout the week.
While this is a significant benefit to working adults, it is still important that you carve out time to dedicate to your education before you make the commitment. You want to ensure that you are able to put in adequate time in order to gain everything that you want to achieve from your education.