For most adults, the idea of going back to school can be daunting. You’re likely asking yourself questions like:
- “Will I succeed?”
- “How can I manage classes and homework in addition to my other responsibilities?”
- “Can I afford to get my degree?”
- “Do I even remember how to ‘be’ in school?”
What you’re really wondering is if you’re truly ready to take this important next step in your education.
But being “ready” is more than just a feeling; it’s something you can take steps to prepare for by evaluating the factors in your life—such as your schedule, your finances, and your job flexibility—to set yourself up for success.
Consider the following four factors when deciding if you are “ready” to go back to school to take control of your future.
4 Factors to Consider When Returning to School as an Adult
1. Consider: Your Schedule
The first step toward deciding if you’re ready to return to school is making sure you are available—and willing—to commit to the process.
Start by thinking through your weekly schedule. Write out a list of your commitments, including work, standing appointments, and even the errands you have to do weekly in order to keep your life functioning. Then analyze that list and see if you have a few hours per week that you could set aside for school.
Likely, you will surprise yourself when you recognize that there are gaps in your schedule you can use to attend classes, even if it may mean giving up some social or other less productive commitments. If your work schedule is the problem, talk to your boss about your goal of returning to school. Many companies value their employees’ desire to further their education and may offer you support in the form of flexible or reduced hours or even potential tuition reimbursement. Temporarily loading up or rearranging your schedule will be worth the benefits of completing your degree.
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There may be periods in your life when between family, work, and other responsibilities, you may not physically have the time in your schedule to attend school. While this is a valid concern, if you have your heart set on getting your degree, there’s likely a way to make it work.
Many universities, for example, offer an array of unique online degrees which allow for the flexibility many adult students need to make classes fit into their busy lives. Most of the bachelor’s degree completion programs at Northeastern are offered 100 percent online, in accordance with a growing trend. A recent study reported that the number of students who solely attended in-person classes dropped by more than one million between 2012 and 2016, exemplifying the growing popularity and demand for the flexible learning environment online courses offer.
To reduce scheduling stressors, you can lean on family and friends for support or work with an advisor or counselor to restructure your commitments in order to make your goals happen.
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2. Consider: Your Support System
It’s helpful to surround yourself with people with whom you can talk through big life decisions—such as returning to school. Knowing who those people are and the type of support system you have in place will go a long way as you continue down the path toward finishing your degree.
These are the people you know you can lean on if you get overwhelmed, need help studying, or simply need a pep talk when things get tough. Knowing that you have an entire team in your corner that wants to see you succeed will help give you the push you need to work hard and complete your program.
If you don’t have this kind of support system to lean on, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue your degree on your own. Some students actually operate better in a learning environment where they are solely accountable for their successes.
However, if you do feel having a team behind you might benefit your process, consider reaching out to your university’s dedicated student admissions counselors to talk through all of your questions and concerns—from which program you should choose to which courses to enroll in. Then lean on your professors, classmates, and advisors throughout your time at the university to get whatever kind of help and support you need. One of the perks of being a member of a higher education institution is the community of like-minded individuals that you will automatically become a part of. Sometimes, knowing there’s a group of people who all share similar goals and want you to succeed is all you need to thrive.
3. Consider: Your Finances
Although many universities work hard to offer programs that are affordable for students, education is rarely free. For this reason, it’s important to not only make sure you have the time and support to pursue your degree but to also determine if you are in a suitable financial situation to do so.
Every university is different, but in the 2017-2018 academic year, undergraduate courses for bachelor’s completion students at Northeastern cost anywhere from $519 to $751 per semester hour.
If you’re doubtful that these costs will fit within your budget, don’t worry. There are many financial aid options you can take advantage of in order to return to school.
Before registering for classes, be sure to check with your current employer to learn about any tuition reimbursement options they offer. A 2015 survey found that over 83 percent of employers offered some form of educational assistance to employees returning to school. While the amount of reimbursement offered may vary depending on the organization, it doesn’t hurt to explore this option when considering how to pay for school.
Scholarships & Grants
Many institutions, including Northeastern, offer a variety of scholarships to make quality education more affordable. Each award requires that students meet a specific set of standards, ranging from an applicant’s home state to their high school GPA. The money given to scholarship recipients can range from $500 to more than $25,000.
State and federal grants are also viable options to help you pay for school. Unlike loans, grants are donations toward education that students do not need to repay. Some are awarded based on financial need or the estimated family contribution (EFC) to the applicant’s tuition, but all are set in place to help students more easily afford their courses.
If you are a military veteran hoping to complete a degree program, there are many additional benefits available to you. The main program utilized by U.S. veterans and active duty servicemembers is the GI Bill®, which includes both the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill. Northeastern has also invested in the federal Yellow Ribbon Program, which allows the university to offer each student up to $30,000 per year toward their education.
4. Consider: Your Goals
There are many reasons to return to school to complete your bachelor’s degree, including a desire for a promotion, a higher wage, access to new job opportunities, and increased marketability. Before starting on this journey, however, you should take the time to identify exactly why you have decided to finish your degree. In doing so, you will not only help put your priorities in perspective but also remind yourself what it is you’re working for.
Once you’ve taken the right steps to ensure your path to continued education is clear—and the answer to “Am I ready?” becomes an unquestionable “Yes!”—then it’s time to get started. Choose one of Northeastern’s flexible programs dedicated to non-traditional learners, and begin working towards your bachelor’s degree today.
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.