There may come a time in your life where you wake up and realize you feel stuck in your career, either because it isn’t what you dreamed it would be or because you don’t see a clear path for advancement. When this happens, it may be a good idea to consider a career shift. For some people, this revelation comes early on in their lives, in their 20s or 30s — but for others, it can happen late into middle age. Shifting careers is difficult enough as it is, but it’s even more challenging doing it at 40 or 50 years old.
If you’re an older adult who wishes to take that leap, you can join the countless older professionals who have decided to go back to school to advance their career or embark in a new direction. Going back to school as an older adult is ideal if you want to ensure your success and stand out in the competitive job market. However, there are certain factors you have to consider before taking the plunge to ensure you’re making the right decision. The following are some important questions to ask yourself before committing to this choice.
What do you intend to accomplish?
Going back to school as an adult is a significant decision that carries with it tons of consequences. It’s not something that can be done on a whim. If you don’t have already have a solid goal in mind for why you want to do it, you could end up wasting your time and making a very costly mistake. You’ll have to think hard about your goals and how going back to school can help you get there.
What do you need to help you achieve your career goals?
A four-year degree isn’t the only way you can attain more skills and knowledge. There are also shorter alternatives, such as a certificate program or an associate’s degree. They each have their own benefits, and the best one for you depends on your specific goals. Below is a brief explanation of how they differ:
Certificate Programs. Certificate programs are short programs that can take either a few months or up to a year to finish. They’re designed to help further your skills and knowledge of a particular topic you are already well-versed in. This is a great choice if your goal is to advance your skills but remain in the same industry. If time is an issue, SSG-funded courses offer comprehensive training and certifications for professionals who are already working full-time.
Associate’s Degree. Associate’s degrees can take up to two years or more to finish. They’re more intensive and slightly more expensive than a certificate program. This type of degree is useful if you’re entering a field that requires you to have an associate’s degree and if you’re interested in a different career path.
Master’s Degree. Master’s degrees allow you to specialize in a specific skill within your industry or outside it if you already have a clear idea of where you want to go. Most master’s degrees take up to two years to complete, and they often lead to a higher salary bracket and more advanced job opportunities.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). MOOCs are short courses that you can take online. Some are free, while others are paid and offer an actual certification upon completion. These are ideal if you’re interested to learn something new that you could add to your skillset.
Can you balance work, school, and family life?
Remember how hard it was to balance your personal life and your academics back in college and even high school? It’s the same thing with entering the school as an adult learner, except now you probably have bills to pay, a family to take care of, and a full-time job to report to. Granted, you may be more equipped than before to handle all these things, but it’s still worth it to make sure that you brush up on your time management skills beforehand. You should also check in with your family to see if they can handle the stress and constraints that come with this decision since you’ll need all the support you can get.
Have you weighed all your options?
There are usually plenty of alternatives for you to think about in career advancement that isn’t as time-consuming and costly as returning to school. The time and money you’ll be spending on tuition could easily go towards doing something like opening a business and paying for start-up capital. It’s important to really weigh the options, benefits, drawbacks, and opportunity costs of this decision before jumping into it.
If you’re an adult interested in going back to school again, these are just some things you need to consider before you take the leap. This is a big decision that isn’t without downsides, but if you plan your approach and think about it clearly, it could be an incredibly worthwhile experience.