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Are You Serious About Going Back to School?


Working parents, especially working single parents, appreciate the value of going back to school but find it difficult to take on yet another commitment when their lives are already hectic and demanding. Even more difficult - the decision to take on the financial burden of higher education.

The Practical Path

Is it the idea of school that appeals or is it school itself that appeals? For many adults, particularly those who have been in the workplace for some time, it is merely the idea - a way to personal growth, a change of pace, a chance to get out of a rut. School itself then becomes a burden or, worse, a pricey indulgence. The most practical reasons for earning a degree come with material results:

  • Your education limits you to low level jobs and low income potential. Further education, particularly in a specialized field of study, can yield greater opportunity and higher salary rates.
  • You find yourself behind the times. A degree program will update your technological or professional abilities so you can stay relevant within your field.
  • You have hit a professional ceiling. Boosting your knowledge base and credentials will improve your earning or promotion potential.
  • You want to change careers or improve mobility within your industry. A degree is necessary for entry in a new field or crucial in changing tracks in your current field.
  • Your job is becoming obsolete. Rather than competing for dwindling job opportunities in a shrinking field, you want to start anew and pursue a career that has a viable future.

If your career is the focus and a degree enhances your professional prospects then education is a valid option. Let that validity guide you. Discard vague notions of what a degree might confer upon your future and resist learning in a vacuum. Your educational choices should be judged by whether they have value and relevance in your field, and whether they will offer you tangible returns in the professional realm.

The Personal Path

For many adults, higher education was an opportunity missed, deferred, or squandered. Returning to school, then, might be more of a personal quest, with professional benefits serving as incentive or sheer bonus. The non-traditional student body is made up of many adults that don't necessarily need to return to school but are motivated by a crystallized sense of self, a change in priorities, or a change in circumstances.

  • College, the first time around, was one party after another or a never-ending spell of hanging out. Adults that dropped out of college in their youth, or adults that earned a degree but didn't learn much of anything, often consider returning to school.
  • At college age, there was no genuine reason for college. Adults that directly entered the workforce or wholly devoted themselves to family discover, later in life, a hankering for higher education.
  • College is just one part of starting over. Adults coping with drastic changes in their lives - the aftermath of an accident, the diagnosis of disease, the recovery from substance abuse, to name a few - look to school as part of redefining and reordering their lives.
  • College is a benefit earned and deserved. The military provides ample financial aid, with generous expiration dates, allowing its servicemembers to enroll in school at almost any age or station of life.
  • Once a student, always a student. Some adults thrive on education and look for ways to continue as a student throughout their lives.

If personal reasons have you considering a return to school, run those reasons through the wringer.

  • Is regret your main motivation or is there legitimate purpose at hand?
  • Is boredom at the heart of this idea? Are there alternative ways to satisfy your time?
  • Is school treating the symptom of a deeper dissatisfaction? Is school the true cure?
  • Is school something you feel obligated to do or is it something you truly want to do?
  • Is school right for you now or is it something to aim for in years to come?
  • Is school a distraction from life obligations or a healthy addition to your life?
  • Is your life stable enough to bear the responsibilities of school?
  • Is a full-fledged program necessary or would a few classes suffice?
  • Are you considering the practicalities: the cost, the time, the adjustment?

Reservations are natural. You may simply need to read more about adult education in order to judge if you are suited and ready. Or you may need time to take personal stock of your intentions and goals. School isn't going anywhere. This isn't a decision to rush. If, however, you're confident that returning to school is to your benefit, the next step is to explore your options.

  • "Should You Go Back To School?" by Pia Sarkar, (
  • "Should You Go Back To School?" by Susan Adams,
  • "Is Going Back To School Too Risky Right Now?" by Hager Scher, Redbook, (
  • Traditional Degrees for Nontraditional Students, Carole S. Fungaroli, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000

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Disclosure: Not all programs are accelerated, available in all locations, or in both online and on-campus formats. The transferability of credits is subject to each school's transfer credit policy. Financial aid including grants, scholarships and loans may be available to those who qualify. Program lengths and outcomes vary according to each institution's specific curriculum and employment opportunities are not guaranteed. CompareTopSchools is a consumer information site that offers free ratings and recommendations of colleges and universities. We are an advertising-supported service and receive compensation from many of the schools that appear on our site. Compensation may impact which schools we rate and recommend and where those schools appear. CompareTopSchools takes into consideration several proprietary rules to determine how and where schools appear on our website. All opinions expressed on this site are our own, including, without limitation, our designation of a particular institution as being a "top" school.