You want to go back to school, but it’s a big step. The time commitment seems unreasonable and maybe you’re almost happy with your current job. Almost. Whether you’re aiming for a promotion or you want a totally new career, you have goals that you think a degree will help you attain.
You’re not alone in your desire to earn a degree. In 2012, there were 8 million students over 25 years old, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. They all made the decision to go back to school, and you can, too. You’ll have to put in the time for classes and studying, you might have to reduce your hours at work and you’ll definitely have a lot more to juggle, but you can do it.
Yes, your reasons for not going back to school are very real, and very valid. But you shouldn’t let them hold you back. These professionals didn’t.
I want to go back to school, but …
I have kids
If you’re a parent, your kids come first, as they should. But that doesn’t mean you need to give up your own dreams—these professionals found ways to care for their kids and earn a degree.
Lisa Flowers, of Flowers Media Matters, is on the brink of completing three degrees in five years. She went back to school when her son was 4 years old. Even though she takes many online classes, childcare has still been an issue, but she has help from her mom and pays for childcare as necessary.
“I do most of my school work after my son goes to sleep which means most nights I am up until around midnight or 1 a.m.,” she says. “And I am often exhausted mentally from simply thinking about school, writing a paper, tests, etc. But I do believe all of this is worth it and that I'm setting a good example for my son.”
Going back to school doesn’t mean you’ll be neglecting your kids. In fact, you’ll be setting a good example for them.
I’m worried about work/life balance
You already have about 100 things to do every day, how can you possibly add in more to-do lists? Work/life balance is the worry of many adults returning to school.
Matt Ross, executive director at London Youth Advisory Council, was concerned he was taking on too much when he went back to school for a chemistry degree while still holding a full-time job. He says he’s lucky that his job was flexible enough to allow him to go back to school.
“Have honest talks with your leaders and colleagues to see what is possible, if you aren't working in an atmosphere where you can openly talk about your aspirations outside of your current job, then I would be taking stock on whether that is a good work environment in general,” he says.
Ross says there’s even a benefit to going back to school as an adult—you’ll be more organized thanks to your job and other life experience, and that will help you handle your new commitments.
I work full-time
Nearly all the professionals we spoke to worked full-time while earning their degree. Working and going to school means you’ll have to become very good with time management.
“Juggling classes with a full-time job was of course very tricky,” says Amber Hunt, who initially took a semester off to work in journalism, then went back several years later. “Some of the classes were at terrible hours for someone with somewhat traditional working hours, but I luckily had a boss who was accommodating and a job that could be a little flexible, so I'd write late at night after finishing my classes and homework.”
Your job is important, and hopefully your boss will understand how your education can help them. If not, online classes offer more flexibility than traditional classes and might be a good option for you.
I’m too old
There’s no way around it: Your classmates will be younger than you, whether it’s by five years or 20 years. But that’s not necessarily as bad as it sounds. In fact, there could even be a few perks.
Ross says older students are generally able to build better relationships with professors, who have the knowledge and connections to help your career.
Above all else, you really should just be yourself, no matter your age.
“Don't try to be anyone but yourself or you'll come off as not genuine,” Ross says. “Sure, there will be a couple awkward moments, but in the end, if this is what you really want, these are very small barriers in the big picture.”
I can’t afford it
If you want to further your education you need to find a way to pay for it. There are ways to make this aspect a little easier, including loans, grants and scholarships.
April Boyd-Noronha says that as a single parent, finances almost kept her from earning a degree. She wanted to set an example for her children, though, and was able to make it work thanks to qualifying for a state-funded program.
It’s true that you’ll likely need to cut back on some expenses in order to afford to go back to school. You’ll also need to weigh your options and decide which expenses are most important to you. Flowers says she’d rather spend money on her education than a new vehicle, which is why she drives a 14-year-old car.
I’m thinking about switching jobs
While it might seem crazy to go back to school and complete a job search, it could be beneficial to your career in the long run. You’ll be showing your new employer that you’re committed to your education and know how to manage your time well.
Rich Raiders, of Raiders Law and Environment, did just that, though he says that switching jobs and earning his degree was “one of the most stressful events” of his life. He went back to school because he didn’t think his career was progressing and he thought a degree would help.
“The hours were long, I was tired and I was stressed,” he says. “But at the end, after I became established in my new career, even after turning 50, it was all worth it.”
I haven’t been in a classroom in so long
Sure, you’re afraid that you won’t be able to remember things as easily as the younger people in your class. After all, they just got out of high school so they’re still familiar with the classroom environment, doing homework and studying for tests. But don’t let that stop you.
Jayne Wallace, director of corporate communications for Sprint, graduated college in 1976, went back for a graduate degree in 2005 and is currently in a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. She says, before enrolling, potential students should try to sit in on classes so they can get a better idea of what they’re getting into.
She also says it’s important to talk to your professors before you have problems. “In some cases, you will be the two oldest people in class,” she says. “Make sure they’re prepared to give you a little extra time.”
Out of excuses yet?
Chances are you identified with one—or more—of these potential reasons to not go back to school. Maybe you have children or maybe you’re concerned about your work/life balance, either way, your concerns are valid, but they shouldn’t hold you back from your education. These professionals did it, and so can you.
If you need just a little more inspiration, check out “5 Students Like You Who Made It Through” to read about a non-traditional student, a young parent, a returning veteran, a working student and a career changer who all succeeded in college.