So You Want to Go Back to College - What's the First Step?
Returning to college can open new doors both personally and professionally, regardless of your age or current career status. The beginning of any large new undertaking also can be the most challenging and overwhelming part, too. Once you've decided to go back to college, the first steps you take in the process are critical and often determine your outlook for the educational journey ahead.
Here's how to make your transition back to college as smooth as possible.
Determine Your Course of Study
What do you want to learn by going back? Determining your major focus and level of education is one of the most important first steps before returning to college, especially if you are mid-career or have a family. Not only do you want to make the most of the commitments to both time and money, this decision directly influences several other choices you must make.
First, figure out what kind of degree you need. Do you need to get your Associate's degree before moving onto your Bachelor's, or are you ready to take the next step in your career and get the specialized education that a Master's degree provides?
If you're ready to completely change careers, but you aren't sure what else you would enjoy, consider taking a career test or assessment. You need to choose a field of study so you can research and apply to the schools and programs that will give you the greatest return based on your specific goals.
Explore the Educational Options
Thoroughly research all of your options before choosing and committing to a specific program. Weigh the pros and cons of pursuing an education online versus an on-campus experience, whether at a community college, public university, or private college. Then, examine the specific program you're interested in and what resources it offers students.
For many adults, an online education offers the flexibility to balance school with work, family, or other responsibilities. The online degree programs from Ashford University, for example, have been designed with the modern professional in mind, from a shorter course schedule of five or six weeks to the ability to take just one course at a time. Ashford also recognizes prior college credits to ensure you don't waste time with redundant coursework.
Calculate the Financial Investment and ROI
You want to return to school to see a specific reward, whether it's to earn a potentially higher paycheck, better job satisfaction, or the skills you need for that big promotion. Whatever your goal, it doesn't mean you should go into debt just to achieve it. You want to balance the financial investment of returning to college with any rewards you might see on the other side.
To calculate the return on investment (ROI) of going back to college, carefully consider each the following questions:
- How much debt will I accumulate?
- Can I pay off the debt in a reasonable amount of time?
- Do I have to keep working to support going back to school?
- Am I eligible for financial assistance or scholarships?
- Will more education help me reach my career goals?
A reasonable amount of time for paying down student debt varies person to person based on age, career prospects, whether they have any dependents, and other circumstances. Fortunately, financial assistance and even scholarships are available for both online and on-campus programs. Some employers even offer tuition assistance when continuing education relates to an employee's industry or current position.
Returning to college is not a decision to take lightly. Furthering your education can change the course of your entire life. Be clear and confident about the career path you want to follow, and extensively research the risks, rewards, programs, and options you have to achieve that goal. A little preparation will go a long way to ensuring your college experience is the best it can be.
Written by Ashford University staff