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Going Back to College in Your 30s: 10 Reasons It Will Be Easier Than You Think

Nathan Wilgeroth / Abound: Finish College »

There are plenty of reasons why you might be considering going back to school to finish your bachelor’s degree. Maybe something kept you from completing your degree (or enrolling in school in the first place). Maybe you’re looking to change careers. Maybe you’re vying for a promotion, or maybe you’re hoping to be more competitive in a cutthroat job market.

While our typical idea of a college student is an 18-year-old who’s fresh out of high school, lots of adults in and beyond their 30s are returning to school to earn their degree. And for good reason! Students with a college degree have a measurably higher median salary than those with a high school diploma. Are you looking to get your bachelor’s but worried that you missed the opportunity? Don’t worry! Here are 10 reasons why earning a degree in your 30s is not just possible, but also easier than you think.

1. You Know What You Want

Let’s admit it: it’s a bit strange to assume that 18-year-olds can declare their major with a clear idea of what they want to do with their lives. Early adulthood is a dramatic time of discovery and growth, so it’s no wonder why changing majors is so common among traditional undergrads. With some life and work experience under your belt, however, you have a better sense of who you are and what you want to do. 

Your greater sense of certainty will help you choose your major and stick to it, allowing you to stay focused and efficient as you complete your degree.

2. You’re More Mature 

And, hey, let’s admit this: traditional college students often have priorities that are… well, “in conflict” with their studies. We’ve all been 18 before—do I need to say more? Now beyond your messier young adult period of growth, you are better primed for focused work and success in class. 

“Returning adult students often come to college with clear goals, motivation, and a true understanding of how much college costs,” says Kyle Vickers, Academic Resource Center Coordinator at Clarion University. “Having more responsibilities outside of the classroom allows returning adult students to stay focused and motivated, which in turn increases the chance of success.” Your experience in the real world has given you perspective, and so you are more able to gauge the value of what you’re learning and take it more seriously. This maturity will ultimately help you stay focused, complete assignments, and participate in class

3. You Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses 

Along with your maturity, you have gotten a much clearer idea of what you are good at and where you tend to struggle. Traditional undergrads usually find this out during college, so you get to handle the learning curve of college without growing pains of young adulthood. You have a better grasp on what you need as you schedule classes and complete assignments. 

4. You Know How to Manage Time 

“Returning adult students naturally have better time management skills,” says Vickers. “They have held jobs, managed family obligations, and worked within a structured schedule.” You have been in plenty of situations or jobs in which punctuality was paramount, and so the amount of practice you’d had with time management will serve you as you go back to school.

Still wary? That’s understandable; while you have more life experience, you also have more obligations to think about outside of school, whether they be your family or a current job. Carrie Phillips of Arkansas Tech University explains how many adult programs cater to busy schedules: “Working a full-time job and going to class sounds scary. However, it does not have to be. At Arkansas Tech University, many of our students work while attending courses. Professors understand this and understand that life happens.” Especially since over 33% of college students are aged 25 and over (with the share of students projected to rise), this flexibility is becoming more and more of a given all around the country. ”The best strategy is communicating about issues that come up and collaborating with your professors to figure out how to handle various situations.” 

5. You Can Finish Your Degree More Quickly

With the understanding that non-traditional students have other commitments to get back to, many schools have streamlined the track to a degree to ensure that returning adult students can complete their education as efficiently as possible. 

One of the first steps to take to ensure that you don’t enroll in more courses than you have to, check with your admissions office to see how you might be able to earn some credit for any education you received in the past. Dr. Amy Gaimaro, Dean of Innovative Delivery Methods at Molloy College, stresses the benefit of transferring credits. “I recommend asking about prior learning credit programs. It may, for example, be credit-bearing courses taken and passed at another college (usually referred to as transfer credit) or academic credit awarded for learning accomplished outside the traditional classroom.” 

At some schools, like Molloy, students may be able to fulfill some of their required credits even if they had never attended college in the past. Prior Learning Assessments help gauge the real-life experience that a student has earned and whether it shows their proficiency in a subject without having taken a formal class. Ask your prospective colleges about the options available so that you may apply previously earned credits or life experiences to your degree.

Other benefits of non-traditional education include great flexibility through various class formats. Online and hybrid courses make it easier for adult students to attend class without worrying about a frequent commute. Altogether, these opportunities ensure that adult students have as few barriers to their degree as possible.

6. You Have a Support System 

Arkansas Tech University’s Ms. Phillips, who has also pursued an education while working full time, found that her family, friends, and colleagues made her non-traditional education an incredibly rich experience: “After going to school again after taking 10 years off, I was so proud and thankful for my varied support system. People at work, in my professional groups, and in my friend circle all wanted to hear about my studies. Getting to share my passion and enthusiasm helped me to stay excited and hold me accountable when the going got tough.”

Mr. Vickers from Clarion University also finds a support system to be a great source of inspiration. “Knowing that you have people depending on you can be just the motivation you need to succeed,” he says. “One of the first things I ask students when I work with them is ‘what is your why?’ or “who are you doing this for?’” Your connections will keep you supported and encouraged as you work toward your goals.

7. You Can Connect With Professors 

Establishing a rapport with your professors makes class more enjoyable and fulfilling. Students are always encouraged to form close professional relationships with their professors anyway, but it’s even easier to create these bonds when they have more in common. Now that you have similar life and work experiences, that one-on-one connection is likely to come more naturally. Close student-to-faculty relationships help make education more engaging, memorable, and fulfilling.

8. You Can Apply Your Professional Experience to Your Studies 

If you’re pursuing a degree related to your current career path, your education will both enrich and be enriched by your work. As you learn, you will be able to apply lessons learned from your work experience to your studies—and vice versa! The strategies you learn in the classroom could also enhance your performance at work. It’s a positive feedback loop of performance and development that will serve you greatly throughout the years.

9. Your Boss Might Pay for It!

There’s no tip-toeing around it: college in the U.S. is expensive. And while financial aid is available to traditional and non-traditional students alike, some adult students might have an extra source of support to help pay for their education: their employer! Many employers see the value in continuing education, as it will only make their current employees more knowledgeable in their field and better able to fulfill their job description. Employer-assisted tuition is an increasingly popular strategy for businesses to invest in their employees’ education—ask your boss about potential offerings to see whether you can get a bit of your tuition taken care of!

10. It’s Never Too Late 

Every year, the number of college students that are of non-traditional age grows. Currently, one in 10 college students in the United States is age 40 or older, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2027, 3.3 million students will fall within this age group. “Most returning adult students that I interact with tell me that they are often surprised that they weren’t the only non-traditional age student in their class,” says Mr. Vickers. He says that these demographics help these students feel immediately relieved and more comfortable.” Know that you are in good company here. Returning to college in your 30s is just as beneficial as it is common.

Whenever you’re ready to take the next step, Abound: Finish College is here to help every step of the way. Take a look at the schools we trust to find an institution that will remain flexible and accommodating to your unique needs as an adult student.

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