These days you need a college degree to be as competitive in the job market as your parents did with a high school diploma. To be as competitive as they were with a college degree, you now need a graduate degree. As adult learners go back to college later in life, they often find themselves encountering considerations they thought they had left behind years or even decades ago. Issues such as where to live, how to budget on a reduced income, and how to fund their educational expenses. This article will provide some insights into these and other considerations for those who have been in the workforce and are considering going back to school.
Consideration #1 – How will you fund your degree?
For most people, this is their primary concern with going back to school. Luckily, there are a ton of options available to help you fund your degree. Federal student loans are available to most borrowers and are not age-restrictive – meaning, you can take advantage of them whether you are 24 or 84. In addition, one advantage that later-in-life students have over typical college freshman is a higher credit rating.
With this in mind, there are many private student loan lenders willing to fund well-qualified borrowers at better rates than the government. Some private lenders will allow borrowers to defer repayment of the loans until after graduation, just as the government does. There are plenty of options out on the market, so it takes a bit of shopping to figure out the best solution. On top of this, borrowers must meet stricter criteria compared to federal options, so private loans may be more advantageous to later-in-life students.
There are also scholarships available specifically for those who have spent time in the workforce and want to go back to school to finish their original degree or obtain a second degree. And of course, there are plenty of scholarships available according to geographic location, area of study, ethnicity, and other factors. Don’t mistakenly believe that you will be uncompetitive for scholarships or grants simply because you are older than the average student. In many cases, age and practical job experience will actually boost your chances of receiving aid.
Consideration #2 – Where will you live while in school?
It might be hard to imagine moving into the campus dorms. However, some nontraditional students enjoy living on campus and being close to classes, extracurricular student activities, and the college library. If the thought of it doesn’t exactly float your boat, though, consider living off-campus but within walking distance. This will put you outside the bubble of campus life when you want to be, but still close enough that trekking to and from school will not be difficult. There are plenty of apartments up for rent near college campuses, so do some shopping to find the cheapest options.
Of course, many students going back to school have families at home to consider. If that is your situation, you may be faced with a commute since moving on or closer to campus is not a viable option. In that case, try to arrange your class schedule in a way that maximizes your opportunity to do things like spend time in the library or attend study groups, while avoiding heavy traffic to and from school when possible.
Consideration #3 – How will you budget while attending school?
With rare exceptions, the student who leaves the workforce to go back to school will need to trim their budget to accommodate a total loss or reduction of income. You will need to decide if you can afford to quit working entirely or will need to continue to work part-time when not attending classes. The relatively easy availability of student loans can lead to students over-borrowing when it would have been smarter to remain employed part-time while pursuing their degree. However, the reverse is also a potential problem, because overextending yourself at work at the risk of grades or important internships can be a greater long-term detriment than taking out sufficient loans to get by while in school. Budgeting resources can come in handy when planning out personal finances, especially for unpredictable college students.
Consideration #4 – What will be your support network while in school?
Last but certainly not least, you must have a plan for who you can rely on during the next few months or years while you focus on your degree. If you have a spouse or children, it’s important to prepare them ahead of time for the transition. This is doubly important if you plan to continue to work while attending school, since that leaves even less free time for others. That said, your family is likely to be your most significant source of support, both financially and emotionally, while you focus on finishing your education.
Employers, coworkers, friends, and also other classmates, are additional people who can round out your support network. Having someone to pick your child up from school last-minute, or bring you lunch when you’re stuck in the library studying for a final exam, will make all the difference in the world. Start preparing your support network well ahead of time by having heart-to-heart conversations with the people in your life that will be most affected by your transition back to being a student. They are also the people who will be in the best position to help you when the time comes.