Are you ready to go back to school? While there is a lot of value in finishing your degree, you may be wary about how fitting school into your busy life will work. Before you restart your education journey, it’s important to ask yourself some college readiness questions so you’ll have a better picture of whether now is the right time to focus on school and advance your career.
Question 1: Why did you leave school before?
At some point in your school career, you made the decision to step away. You are not alone: data shows that 25-50% of college students under the age of 25 end up dropping out of college due to extenuating circumstances.
According to studies, the top three reasons why students leave school are:
- A major life change: A lot can happen while pursuing your education. Marriage, becoming a parent, caring for a relative: there are endless life events that can change your priorities and make you lose focus on school.
- Financial considerations: Paying for school is an investment and priorities can shift quickly. Many find it challenging to manage tuition within their budget while others choose to enter the workforce before graduation to start earning.
- Mental health: Stress can be a major side effect of higher education. Difficult schedules and heavy workloads can take a toll on personal well being, causing many to step away.
Ask yourself: did any of these factors play into your decision to leave school? Are these factors still relevant today?
Even if you answered yes, you’re likely to find different solutions this time around. You are older and wiser now, with more life experience under your belt. Plus, online instruction and more supportive college services have helped make education more accessible than ever for working adults. (See question 3.)
Starting something new is always hard no matter where you are in life. But change also brings progress, and if going back to school can help further your career and bring more personal fulfillment, it’s worth evaluating how the work will benefit you in the long run.
Question 2: What is the return on investment?
When making a major life decision, it’s important to assess the value of your choice. What are you hoping to gain by going back to school? How will earning your degree change your life?
There are several ways going back to school can positively impact one’s life:
More earning potential
College graduates earn more money than high school graduates. On average, a bachelor’s degree brings in an 84% higher salary than a high school diploma, adding up to a significant increase over the course of one’s career.
According to a 2021 study:
- $52,000 was the median income for recent college graduates aged 22-27
- $30,000 was the median income for high school graduates of the same age
Depending on your career field, these numbers can shift dramatically. For example, nurses can significantly boost their earning potential depending on their education level.
In 2021, reports show:
- Median salary for an LPN: $48,820
- Median salary for an RN: $75,330
Other financial considerations include employment benefits such as health insurance, retirement accounts, and more. Bachelor’s degree holders are 47% more likely to have health care coverage through their employer.
Ask yourself: how would earning more money impact your life?
More career advancement opportunities
College graduates are more likely to experience career growth than those without a degree. A 2020 study found that two thirds of all open job opportunities required at least some postsecondary education, while only 36% of jobs were open to those with no college experience.
Bachelor’s degree holders have a 4% unemployment rate, whereas those with high school diplomas experience over 12% unemployment.
Earning a college degree helps you gain marketable skills that employers look for in job applicants. In addition to specialized knowledge and qualifications for your industry, completing a degree shows a level of dedication employers value.
Your chosen field may even require continued education or licensure in order to advance. For example, nurses must complete their NCLEX exam in order to become an RN regardless of field experience. Without the necessary education, your career may eventually become stagnant.
Ask yourself: how would going back to school open doors within your field?
More personal happiness
Achieving personal goals and moving forward on life plans creates personal satisfaction. Working at a job you enjoy–rather than one that simply pays the bills–can help you feel valued, respected, and proud that your skills and talents are being put to good use.
A recent study found that adults without a bachelor’s degree are more than twice as likely to say they are unhappy with their lives when compared to college graduates.
The average person spends one third of their life at work; spending that time on something you enjoy, instead of something you tolerate, can make a real difference on how you see yourself and the world around you.
Earning your degree may help you achieve:
- A better work schedule
- More paid time off and benefits
- Manageable work/life balance
- Overall pride and self satisfaction
Ask yourself: how would going back to school make you feel?
Question 3: How would school fit into my life right now?
Many working adults worry about fitting college into their busy lives. Managing school demands on top of personal and professional responsibilities can feel overwhelming before they’ve even begun.
Adults considering going back to school worry about:
- Time: Finding opportunities in your schedule to study and complete coursework
- Budget: Adding college expenses on top of your existing financial responsibilities
- Stress: Regulating anxiety while adding more to your plate
You are not alone in these concerns. The good news is that there are more flexible, supportive options for working adults to go back to school than ever before. Gone are the days where all instruction had to take place in a physical classroom: technology empowers learners to make progress from the comfort of home.
Higher education is now more efficient, affordable, and less stressful thanks to:
Many accredited colleges and universities offer online programming with schedules designed for busy professionals. Evening and weekend classes make it easier for working adults to sign on after hours and work towards their degrees without committing to a traditional full-time schedule.
Online education is typically set up in one of two formats:
- Synchronous learning: Synchronous programs guide all students through topics at the same pace, requiring students and instructors to log in at the same time and complete coursework on a set timeline. This is usually achieved through live, online lessons. Synchronous learning is good for students who want support and structure in their education. Learning with a community of like-minded students–along with a live professor who can answer questions in real time–can be a significant benefit.
- Asynchronous learning: Asynchronous programs allow students to work at their own pace, moving through topics independently. These programs typically utilize pre-recorded lectures and lesson plans; students don’t have to log on at a set time and can complete whenever is convenient. Asynchronous learning is good for students who are highly self motivated and need minimal support in their learning journey.
In addition to the colleges themselves, there are also many college prep services available that support students throughout their education journey, offering tutoring, test preparation, and more.
Testing out of college courses
A less well-known yet effective solution for going back to school is credit by exam.
Credit by exam (also known as “CLEP”) allows students to test out of general education courses. Rather than working through an entire semester-long class and all its corresponding coursework, credit by exam earns the same credits by passing one proficiency exam.
Test prep courses are also available to help students prepare for and pass their exam with confidence. These courses teach specifically to the test questions for maximum success.
Testing out of college courses helps you:
- Save time: CLEP tests help students earn credits with a 90-min test instead of a 16-week semester course.
- Save money: Each CLEP test costs $89–a huge savings when compared to a $2,400+ per college course. Even when students take test prep courses, those programs are more cost effective than traditional college tuition.
- Save stress: Eliminating homework, term papers, and group projects associated with traditional college courses helps reduce workload and overall school anxiety.
There are 34 credit by exam topics available. While students cannot test out of all their college courses, fast tracking general education courses can shave off up to one year of instruction.
Ask yourself: can you work school into your life with these education conveniences?
Question 4: Where do I start?
Your previous college experience may have shaken your confidence. Negative feelings regarding past issues with workload, motivation, or work/life balance may make it challenging to find a starting point today.
One helpful tool for going back to school is a college Bridge Plan. A Bridge Plan is a step-by-step roadmap on how to achieve your education goals, detailing the right:
- Accredited college: Find a school that matches your needs
- Credit by exam opportunities: Discover which courses you can test out of
- Transfer credits: Verify any past credits available for transfer
Achieve Test Prep can help you build a custom Bridge Plan to kick off your back to school journey. As your education partner, our expert Advisors can assess your individual goals and create a plan just for you, helping you visualize all the steps along the way.
We also offer college prep services such as credit by exam test prep courses to help you pass college courses with confidence. We are an industry leader with 93% of Achieve customers passing their exams on their first try.