Making the decision to go back to school is never easy, whether your goal is to complete that undergraduate degree or pursue an advanced degree such as an MBA. You’re not 18 anymore – perhaps far from it – and life is more complicated, with more responsibilities, than when you started out. Still, don’t be deterred — you simply need to find a school that fits your unique needs as an older college student. That’s true whether you’re looking to improve your job skills, expand on the ones you have or start an entirely new career.
Here are some criteria to consider to help you make the right decision for your return.
1. Flexibility that fits your life
About 40% of students enrolled in college are older than 25, more than one-third go to school part-time and nearly 20% work full-time. To accommodate these students, more and more colleges and universities are expanding their roster of evening and weekend classes, offering blended learning or providing 100% online degree programs. Whether it’s a distance-learning program or an atypical schedule you seek, you can find a host of accredited schools to explore to see which best fits your needs.
2. Financial aid options
No matter what your age, the first step in exploring what kind of financial aid you may be eligible for is to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid). This is the single application needed to apply for all types of federal student aid. You can also research grants and scholarships available from the institution you plan to attend or from outside organizations. Be sure to look into tuition reimbursement as well, as many companies offer this benefit to help their employees further develop the knowledge and skills to help them along their career paths. If you go this route, review any requirements that come along with the benefit, as some programs have a GPA requirement or the expectation that you remain employed at the company for a certain period of time after completing your degree.
3. Faculty in the industry
Look for a school with a strong faculty, one you can really learn from. Are your instructors specialists in the industry? Do they have real-world experience to impart? Having their hands directly in the field they’re instructing you about provides valuable perspective and helps prepare you for what life is like post-graduation.
4. A program tailored to your needs
Find a program that’s personalized and fits where you are in life. Seek a degree program and university that recognizes and respects the knowledge and experience your already have. Some schools, for example, feature a curriculum that allows you to skip over what you already know. That frees you to focus on areas where you have more to learn. It’s also wise to seek schools with options that allow you to learn the way you learn best, whether that is reading, watching, listening or interacting.
5. A school that respects your time and money
Do the research to find a school that recognizes transfer-in credit options, which can prevent you from doubling your efforts. Remember, too, thatl some institutions that give credit for work and military experience. Another word to the wise: To best understand the investment your education will require, look for schools with no hidden costs, for which all required books, materials and fees are included in the cost of tuition.
Considering going back to school to earn your degree? Download our Back to School Guide.