Going back to school...for mature students

Written by Annastasia Liu

Friday, December 7th, 2018

When you're a kid, going back to school is a part of life. But for working adults thinking of going back to school or pursuing further education, the prospect of returning to the academic world can be daunting. You may not know where to begin.

I found myself in this situation last year. After working full-time for four years, I was looking to go back to school and was contemplating my options. Once I got past the more straightforward concerns facing a mature student — like what schools to apply to or what courses to take — I still had some difficult factors to consider. Here are some of the questions and thoughts I had when I decided to return to school.

Is it the right time?

Carpe diem! There's no time like the present! While these clichés can be encouraging, they may not be the most practical for mature students. Timing is a major factor when considering going back to school, and it's important to not rush your decision.

Be realistic about your situation and have a sensible plan. It may make sense to save up a fair amount of money for your education and secure an emergency fund before taking the plunge. If you have a partner or significant other, take a look at your finances to see if you can afford to live on one income or a decreased income.

You can even try it out. For three months limit your spending to the amount of just one income or, if you're single, cut your usable income in half and save the rest. If you're finding it hard to meet your basic needs, this may be an indicator that you need to budget and save to help cover your expenses while you're in school and earning less.

Do your research and use your resources

This should come as no surprise, but going back to school can be quite expensive. That being said, there are many ways to help finance your education. Examine funding options through your employer and school such as scholarships and bursaries.

For many graduate students there are options to work as research or teaching assistants, which could provide additional income and help diversify your resume. These assistant positions are not guaranteed and are often limited to a certain number of candidates at each school, so do your due diligence by looking at program websites and contacting potential schools to see what they have to offer. Some employers offer programs where they reimburse tuition costs for courses that pertain to your current position or development plan. Speak to your manager or with a human resources representative to find out if these options are available to you.

Be flexible

Going back to school doesn't mean the same thing for everyone — this is especially true for mature students. Some people will have the ability to attend classes full-time, while others may have to choose a part-time option that accommodates their work schedule.

Night, weekend or online classes can provide even more flexibility. While completing your studies full-time may allow you to finish faster, it's important to think about balance and how other areas of your life will be affected by the decision to go back to school.

Going back to school may not be the solution to all your problems

Before deciding to pursue further education, think about your intentions and your expectations. For some people, going back to school may feel like a way out of a job situation they're not satisfied with. Education is valuable, but it shouldn't be an escape plan — it should be enriching.

If I had the opportunity, I would be in school forever. I love being in an academic environment and learning new things, but it was important for me to think about how and if going back to school could help me reach my long-term goals.

Your development doesn't end when you graduate. Beefing up your education has to work in tandem with networking, gaining job skills and creating your own personal brand if you'd like to reach your ideal career goal.

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