Should You Go Back to School? 7 Things to ConsiderMay 16, 2023
College isn’t just for fresh-faced teens. According to the Lumina Foundation, 37% of college students are 25 and older. Many of those students are adults that dropped out of college to take care of other priorities and are returning to school to complete their degrees.
Whether you want to return to school to earn a graduate degree or finish your bachelor’s, it can be a daunting decision. It’s important to do your homework before you commit to going back to school.
Ask Yourself These 7 Questions Before Going Back to School
Returning to college is a big decision. Before starting the admissions process or spending thousands of dollars on tuition, ask yourself these seven questions to ensure it’s the right choice for you:
1. How Much Time Can I Dedicate to School?
If it’s been a while since you were in a classroom, you may be surprised by how rigorous college courses can be. Besides the time you spend in lectures or labs, you also have a lot of work on your own to complete. Whether it’s writing papers or studying for exams, college can be time-consuming. In fact, the National Survey of Student Engagement reported that students spend about 15 hours a week preparing for their classes.
It may be difficult to add college coursework to the mix if you have a busy schedule with work, family responsibilities, or other obligations.
2. Can I Handle Taking Classes Online?
When considering whether you should go back to school, be honest with yourself about your comfort level with technology and in-person learning.
If you have other commitments, online classes can be appealing because they have more flexibility, and you can take classes from home. But some people struggle with virtual learning and need in-person instruction and interaction.
Even if you attend college in person, schools are increasingly integrating technology into the coursework for all subjects. For example, many classes require students to engage through online forums or submit projects through student portals. If you aren’t comfortable with computers or tablets, you may be overwhelmed, so it’s a good idea to brush up on technology basics ahead of time.
3. How Much Will Going Back to School Cost?
Depending on when you first attended college, you may be shocked by how much it costs now. According to The College Board, tuition averages $10,940 for public in-state schools and $39,400 for private schools. If you intend to live on campus, room and board can add between $10,000 and $15,000 to your annual cost.
With such a high price tag, think about how you’d pay for school and how it will affect your earning potential.
4. Am I Eligible for Financial Aid?
Many adults that are returning to college believe they’re ineligible for financial aid; they think financial aid is only for incoming freshmen. But that’s incorrect; returning adults can qualify for both federal and institutional financial aid. You may be eligible for federal grants or student loans, and those forms of aid could make college more affordable.
Make sure you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) so you can get all the aid you’re eligible for based on your household income and family size.
5. Are There Scholarships Or Grants Available?
As an adult returning to school, it’s also a good idea to search for scholarships and grants on your own. Many states, private companies, and non-profit organizations offer awards for adults going back to college, so you can use those awards to cover some of your expenses.
- Jeanette Rankin National Scholar Grant: This grant is for adults 35 or older with financial needs that are pursuing a technical or vocational education, an associate’s degree, or a first bachelor’s degree at an accredited college or university. Funds can be used to cover tuition, fees, books, supplies, childcare and other education-related expenses.
- Washington College Grant: The Washington College Grant is available to students of all ages, including working-age adults, that live in the state of Washington. Based on your income, family size, and the school or program you choose, you could qualify for a grant that covers up to the full cost of tuition.
You can find scholarships and grants through databases like FastWeb or CareerOneStop, or by searching for state-based aid through your state education agency.
6. If I Go Back to School, How Will It Affect My Earning Potential?
One of the biggest reasons people consider going back to school is they want to make more money. And earning a degree can certainly pay off. According to The College Board’s Education Pays report, the median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree was $29,000 higher than the median earnings of high school graduates. And the unemployment rate for college graduates is half that of high school graduates.
While college can be time-consuming and expensive, it can pay off over the long run by improving your earning potential.
7. How Do I Cover the Financial Aid Gap?
Although adults returning to college can qualify for grants, scholarships and federal loans, you may find that your financial aid package doesn’t cover your college’s total cost of attendance. If you don’t have enough money saved, you may be worried about how to pay for the remaining balance.
When you’ve exhausted other financial aid options, private student loans can be a useful tool. Particularly for adult college students that may have established credit histories and steady salaries, it’s possible to get private student loans with competitive interest rates and repayment terms.
With ELFI’s private loans, you can borrow up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance, and you can have up to 15 years to repay the loans.*
Should I Go Back to School?
Going back to school as an adult is a major decision, and it’s wise to think it over carefully before deciding what to do. From researching your financial aid options to understanding how a degree may affect your earning potential, there are many things you should take into account before enrolling in college.
If you’ve weighed your options and are ready to enroll, private student loans can help you cover the cost. You can view your rates with ELFI’s Find My Rate tool.