Should You Go Back To School? Yes. Here’s Why

A female adult learner outside with a male adult learner, both smiling.

Thinking about going back to school? You’ve got lots of company.

When it comes to higher education, adult learners are no longer the exception; these days they’re more the rule – representing according to some estimates as much as 40% of undergraduate enrollment.

Still, while a degree remains important, it’s a big commitment. And right now, when everything about work and life feels so in flux, it’s understandable for prospective students to have doubts. Is this really the right time to take such a big step?

Actually, it’s exactly the right time says Claudia Pouravelis. EdAssist’s Senior Director of Learning Innovation says instability-related edginess isn’t unique to employees; companies are feeling it, too. Evolving competencies and low unemployment have left a gap between available skills and open jobs. “Companies are looking more closely at how they can train to fill those holes,” she says. That means affordable advancement opportunities for those willing to look.

For those considering the leap to campus, Claudia sat down with us to answer some of the most common concerns about going back to school, and how to address them.

The economy is so all over the place. It makes me a little nervous about starting something this big.

That’s understandable. But the continuing shifts in so many industries make right now an especially good time to elevate skills. Think about just the arrival of AI, a development that promises to have ripples through just about every industry. And tech isn’t the only industry experiencing growing pains; healthcare is experiencing its own evolution in every specialty and position. Elsewhere in the business world, skills like project management and user experience are in demand, with the World Economic Forum listing both of those among the top needed proficiencies. For people who have them, such in-demand skills equal stability. The more prepared you are now, the better able you’ll be to adapt and grow your career.

How do I know what I study will be relevant?

Education is a commitment you want to be fully engaged in. So on a large level, “relevant” is what inspires you. But another way to go about it is to work in reverse – talk to your company about what jobs they need to fill and then plot your steps backwards. Many (most) companies have direly needed positions and skills they’re training for. At Bright Horizons, for example, our need for teachers led to the creation of the Horizons Teacher Degree Program which allows people to earn their degrees entirely on us – including tuition and books. Companies fill important roles; graduates come away with a degree they’ve always wanted and the potential to make more money and advance their career. You’ll never know if you don’t explore. 

I haven’t been to school in forever. How will I adapt to going back to school now?

The beauty of school right now is that in many ways, it adapts to you. There’s no longer a single type of college or a single way to attend class. Adult learners can search for the program that suits their schedule and the way the individual learns. And there are benefits to being an adult “non-traditional” learner. Teens so often pursue a degree for the proof that they did it. But adult learners tend to be purposeful and goal oriented. That purpose puts the focus on knowledge rather than just the diploma, and it makes learning an entirely different experience. And remember: there’s nothing forcing you to jump in full time or too quickly. I always advise working adults to start with one class – get the feel for it. With so many start terms, flexible schedules, and course times, today’s colleges and universities let you take the journey at your own pace.

Four years of college is such a long time. How do I get through it?

There are several answers to that question. First, if you’re going for a degree, it might not take as long as you think. Education professionals at schools or (if available) through your company’s education program can often find time-saving credits from old schoolwork, classes from unfinished degrees, or even life-experience. You’d be surprised at how much time a knowledgeable advisor can knock off a program. Some schools take as many as 60, 90, or even 100 credits towards an undergraduate degree.

But remember – education isn’t limited to undergraduate degrees – or degrees at all. Many employers offer financial incentives to boost skills quickly via certificates and boot camps. Going for a graduate degree? Four to six courses taken via a certificate program can often be applied to a full graduate program.

College is expensive – how do I pay for it?

The key is to trim costs where you can. The above strategies for cutting down the number of classes you have to take is one way to save on tuition. Using your company’s tuition program (where available) is another. More and more companies are offering financial help – an advent that goes back to those direly needed skills we talked about earlier. Some companies will reimburse tuition paid for tuition; other companies pay directly to colleges, saving you the trouble and expense of finding money to put down out-of-pocket up front. A growing number of companies are offering rolling programs that pay a flat rate per semester, allowing you to advance through courses as you finish them instead waiting for a new semester. They key is to understand the parameters of your benefit and then plan your degree accordingly.

What if I need student loans?

When possible and available, we always encourage students to meet with a financial coach. These coaches can help you maximize your employer’s tuition benefit, and then help you navigate the process of loan identification and applications if needed. They’ll also help you realistically understand future payments and what they’ll mean to your future financial situation.

Ready to pursue your personal education journey? Visit your education benefits portal to find out exactly what’s available through your employer.

A female adult learner outside with a male adult learner, both smiling.

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