How to Know the Right Time to Go Back to College
If you’ve ever thought about going back for a degree or certificate, you’ve probably asked, “When is the right time to go back to college?” Several factors go into people’s decisions to go back to college. Perhaps your goals have changed or grown, or you want a promotion but need a degree first. You might have even realized that your field no longer fits your interests. Beyond that, individuals now have access to funding they didn’t have at 18. Now is a better time to go back to school than right after high school. Further, others must consider how much free time they have available.
Indeed, it’s not always easy to find time on your schedule for lectures, homework, and studying. Many of us cannot afford to stop working to pursue high education. Also, additional responsibilities such as children, older parents, and general housework can take up much of our days. But it is possible to go to college while working or parenting full-time.
There will never be a “perfect” time to go back to school. Illnesses, weddings, children, and bills will always be there. Most students experience major life events while pursuing higher education. Instead, you must consider what makes sense to you. The right time to go back to college is when you feel comfortable, able, and motivated. You may need to consider finances, job opening opportunities, and your daily life.
Figuring Out the Right Time to Go Back to College
Below, we will go over our top six factors to consider when figuring out if it’s the right time to go back to college. However, you may have more to think about as each person’s situation is unique. Notably, some may live independently and worry about finances and loans. Others may be okay financially, but they must take care of their children daily.
Ultimately, you should consider more than what’s happening right now. Make sure your educational goals match your long-term goals. No one wants to spend thousands on a degree they can’t use.
Once you’re sure you want or need to go back to college, you must figure out the right time. You can feel certain it’s time:
When You Feel Financially Ready
Student loans are a necessity for most new and returning students. Due to the ever-rising cost of education and living, most don’t have the funds to pay tuition up-front. As a result, over 45 million Americans have outstanding loan debt after graduation. While no one wants debt, these loans allow millions of people to get into their desired fields, increase their overall earnings, and pursue paths that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. They’re a necessity for many even to be able to attend school.
But that doesn’t mean student loans are right for you or your goals. You still have options if you want to get a degree and not take on any loans.
How to Pay for College
Of course, you can try saving up for tuition. You can pay off each semester as you enroll and graduate debt free. However, this route would take most years to save up. You might be entitled to thousands in educational benefits if you served in the army. Often, this option will pay for most, if not all, of your degree. Alternatively, you can apply for financial aid, such as grants and scholarships. Many of these are merit-based and, as such, require an impressive educational history.
Unfortunately, most scholarships and grants are provided only for undergraduate students and do not pay for all tuition. They may only cover a semester or two. Thus, you’ll have to rely on other funding sources.
Regardless of where your funding comes from, if graduating debt-free matters to you, you need to research and develop a plan. Think of all your expenses, your ideal college’s tuition, and any loss of income due to your schooling. Compare that amount to your funding options. How much will it cost you each month? In the end, you can be sure that the right time to go back to college is when you know you can continue to live comfortably.
When You Have Time
One of the key factors to consider is whether or not you have time. While it sounds simple, many individuals underestimate how much time studying, writing essays, and doing homework takes. You will need to spend hours every week on your coursework. This time does not consider midterms or finals week, which can be grueling for all students.
Notably, instructors will want to help you succeed. If you need an extension, you should never be afraid to email your professor and ask for one. But turning in late assignments or not turning in anything each week will damage your grade and delay graduation.
In the end, the right time to go back to college is when you have time. If you have kids, consider enrolling during the fall and spring semesters while taking summer off. When they’re in school, you can do your schoolwork as well. Additionally, you can try distance education. Online degrees can be earned from the comfort of home, and asynchronous courses allow you to watch lectures and do coursework anytime.
Finally, the time management skills you learned from your undergraduate degree, job, and life experiences will help you. Indeed, finding time is something all new students struggle with at first. Knowing how to set a schedule and ask for help will help you succeed. Thus, as a non-traditional student, you may be better prepared than your peers.
Once You’ve Done Your Research
Doing your research is important, regardless of if you already have an undergraduate degree. The realm of higher education is always changing. You should know about your options before you enroll in a program. Additionally, you need to learn about things such as prior learning assessments.
Today, many universities now offer hybrid or fully online programs. This switch to virtual classrooms came about during the pandemic and may enable you to pursue your degree at home and with colleges that weren’t previously accessible. An online college would also give you access to the previously mentioned asynchronous courses. With these, you won’t have to worry about missing class.
Some schools also offer rolling enrollment options. Thus, if you’re ready right now, but most schools have closed enrollment, you don’t have to wait until the next semester. You may be able to start as soon as next Monday.
Finally, prior learning assessments allow students to use their real-world experiences to get college credits. As a non-traditional student, you may be able to knock out many courses through working, volunteering, and training. Make sure you ask your enrollment advisors for each college if they offer prior learning assessments. If they do, you may get your degree sooner and with lower tuition. Knowing your options helps determine the right time to go back to college.
When You Realize You’re Not on the Right Track
If you’re feeling lost or unhappy in your role or field, it may be the right time to go back to college. Indeed, many people stay in jobs they hate because they’re unsure where to go next. While the idyllic dream job isn’t a reality for most people, you shouldn’t be miserable every day you have to work. Thus, you should consider your options if college will help you get into a different position or field.
Do you have an idea in mind? Maybe there’s a field that has interested you since your youth. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to try a certain job out. If not, don’t worry. You can always reconnect with your passions at any age. If your old passions don’t do it for you anymore, there will be something out there that interests you. Consider talking to a career coach, taking online assessments, and trying new things. Also, you may simply want to research the different college majors available.
Indeed, there are a lot of options. Some are highly specialized, while others are more generic and can take you anywhere. Whatever you decide should help you find more satisfaction in your work life.
When It’s Time for a Promotion
Alternatively, if you’ve been in your field for a while and you’re looking for more, you may need a higher level of education. Many entry-level positions are accessible to people with a high school diploma or equivalent, but individuals need advanced degrees to get to the next level. Considerably, an MBA is almost a requirement for upper management positions in several companies.
You should speak with your manager or HR about growth opportunities. See what requirements they have for various positions and inquire if they have any benefits regarding tuition reimbursement. Indeed, many businesses like to promote internally and help employees grow in the company.
In addition, don’t forget to do your research. See the industry standard for your desired position and jobs in your field generally. Research the usual salary and benefits package. Is your company able to offer you the same? Notably, sometimes the best way to move up isn’t always with your current employer. You should consider exploring open positions and expanding your network as you learn more about the role.
When you have the support, the know-how, and your goals in line, it’s the right time to go back to college. Don’t let your career stagnate out of anxiety over returning to school.
When You Feel Ready
Finally, deciding if you feel ready is the best way to figure out if it’s the right time to go back to college. Indeed, pursuing a degree is a lot of work. You need the time, money, and right headspace to succeed. Many traditional students take a gap year to prepare for their educational journey. Don’t be afraid to take that time as well. Going to school when you’re not ready can result in wasted time, money, and effort that you may never get back.
However, you shouldn’t worry too much about finding that “perfect” time. Most universities allow students to take semesters off, especially in the summer. You may be able to go on a leave of absence where you’re still enrolled in the program but don’t need to pay tuition or enroll in courses. These options allow students to take breaks as needed.
Truly, you can’t pause life as you pursue your degree. Major life events will still occur. You may get sick, get married, have children, and travel. Most of us will continue to work, be parents, and live life. Waiting for the right time may mean you never finish that degree. However, you still need to feel ready to go back to college. If you’re burnt out, exhausted, and struggling for free time, you might not be there yet. But you can start planning today.
Lakewood University is an accredited online school that offers a variety of degree and certificate programs. We have rolling enrollments and asynchronous courses. In other words, you don’t have to worry about missing a lecture or running late to class. If you plan on enrolling in college while working, Lakewood University offers the flexibility you need to earn your degree.
Don’t hesitate – reach out to our admissions department today to learn more!