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Going back to school as an adult can be a scary prospect. It’s been years since you set foot in a classroom, and the other students are just so young. Nonsense! More and more people are continuing their college education later in life, and it’s expected that in the fall of 2019, 7.4 million students enrolled in college will be 25 years old and over. There’s no age restriction on furthering your education and improving your prospects in life.
Reasons to Go Back
You may have been thinking about going back to school, weighing the pros and cons of the decision. There are many reasons why going back to school as an adult may be right for you:
- You’re stuck in a dead-end job.
- You want to go further in your current career.
- You took a break to have a family or to save money, and now you’re ready to go back.
- You want to switch to a new career.
- You just completed military service and are looking for a civilian career.
Picking a School
If you’re an adult with a family or a firmly rooted job, you’re probably not going to choose a school that requires you to relocate. Besides the right degree or certificate program, consider when classes are offered. If you’re planning to keep a full-time job, you’ll need a school that offers classes for your program at night or on weekends. Online classes are a convenient way to learn and, even if you’re not planning to take online classes now, you may find that they’re an easier way to fit college into your busy life. Of course, you still need to have the same discipline for getting the work done that you would for in-person classes. Online classes are convenient, but they lack the college experience that comes with being on campus meeting professors and other students face-to-face and networking with other people who are involved in your field of study.
Choose an accredited school. You can find out by looking at the Department of Education’s website. Be cautious of for-profit schools. Often, they’re more expensive, you get less, and you could have difficulty transferring credits.
When you’ve narrowed your list of potential schools, meet with academic advisors at the schools you’re considering and bring along your previous college transcripts. It’s important to know which of your credits will transfer. Not all schools accept the same credits, and if you pick a school that doesn’t accept many of your previous classes, you’ll have to take more classes and spend more money.
Funding Your Education
Financial aid doesn’t have an age limit. That means you’ll fill out the FAFSA, and you may receive some financial aid from your school. Look for grants and scholarships for adult students with your current school, but look for them via outside sources as well. They’re out there; you just need to take the time to look and apply for them. You may be awarded money for school that you don’t need to pay back. Fastweb and Scholarships.com are two good places to start.
It takes time to apply for scholarships and grants, so start early. Some only require applications while others require written essays. Remember, scholarships and grants don’t need to be paid back, and some can be renewed every year if you keep up your GPA.
Does your employer offer tuition assistance? Even if your field of study isn’t related to your current job, it may offer assistance because it can receive a tax break while helping a valued employee. Sometimes, this means agreeing to stay at your current employer for a specified period, but it may also be offered with no strings attached.
If you do need to take out student loans, it’s best to shop around. Federally subsidized loans may be easier to get and don’t have to be paid back until you leave school, but you may be able to beat their rates with a loan from your bank or credit union. A financial advisor may be able to help you figure out the best way to pay for school that’ll work for your financial situation.
You can take advantage of tax breaks if you’ve returned to school. If you’re a full-time student getting your first undergraduate degree, you’re eligible for the American Opportunity Credit. It allows you to claim up to $2,500 of tuition, books, and supplies. Another is the Lifelong Learning Credit, which you’re eligible for if you’re full-time or part-time with a modified adjusted income of less than $67,000 or less than $134,000 if filing jointly. The credit is for 20% of the first $10,000 of expenses, or $2,000.
Things to Consider
Before you go back to school, consider the amount of time you’ll need to devote to your studies. Even if you’re starting with one class, you’re going to have to put the time in, which can mean adjusting other areas of your life, including work and family. It’s important to have a good support system in both. Going back to school as an adult may not be easy, but the good news is that many people do it with great success. With work and dedication, you can too!