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Thinking About Going Back to College in Your 30s? Here’s Everything You Need To Know

02.03.2022 • 9 min read

Nick Griffin

Subject Matter Expert

This article is an overview about going back to college at 30. Learn what to ask yourself first, how to get back, benefits, tips, and financing options.

In This Article

  1. Important Questions to Ask

  2. In-Person or Online College?

  3. The Benefits of Going Back to School in Your 30s

  4. 10 Tips for Preparing to Go Back to School

  5. How Can You Afford To Go Back To School?

  6. Is Going Back To School In Your 30s Right For You?

Should I go back to school?

This question has been looming in the back of your mind for some time now. You’ve thought of changing careers to pursue your dream job. Or want to advance the career that you're in to make more money and have a better quality of life.

You might think, “30 seems too old to consider going back to school.” With all the added responsibilities of adulthood – a full-time job, mortgage, car payments, a family – it’s no wonder that many people in their 30s don’t know where attending school could fit.

If going to school in your 30s is not the right time, then at what age do you go to college? Only right after high school? There is a lot to consider when weighing the decision to go back to school in your 30s or even going back to school in your 40s.

Important Questions to Ask

Try answering these questions to make sure going back to college is what you want to do:

  • What would I go back to school for?

  • What is my future earning potential in that career?

  • Can I juggle my responsibilities with being a full-time or part-time student?

  • How am I going to pay for it?

  • How long will it take to start the career I want?

  • Will this path increase my well-being and life satisfaction?

Like many things in life, the path to go back to higher education is not as difficult as it may seem at first. Besides, you have proven time and time again that you are capable of doing things you want to do, no matter how hard they’ve been.

In-Person or Online College?

Figuring out how to go back to school now is a lot different than it was the first time you considered an undergraduate degree. On-campus learning may not be available to you due to the distance from a school that has your program or your work and family responsibilities.

If in-person learning is not an option, you could consider enrollment in an online learning program.

Today, there are countless opportunities available to adult students online all over the world and in most disciplines. For example, Outlier offers online courses where you can learn from some of the best minds out there in the comfort of your own home. Whether you are thinking about getting an associate's degree, that first or second bachelor's degree, a master’s degree, or even entering a doctoral program, there is most likely an online path that would fit your schedule.

But, if you want that in-person college experience, because you learn best that way, there are also options for blended learning. These programs combine some live classes with coursework that you can do at your own pace from the comfort of your home. Colleges created the blended program tracks specifically for working adult students.

The Benefits of Going Back to School in Your 30s

Let’s face it, you’re not the same person you were in your early 20s. For someone in their 30s, going back to school can be a better time to pursue the career you want and, in a lot of ways, you are much better prepared for it.

Consider these benefits of going back to college at any age:

  • You’ve had the experience of figuring out what you want and don’t want.

  • You have a deep interest in the content you want to study.

  • You’re better at managing your time and money.

  • You are better equipped to relate to the content from real-world experiences.

  • You have references that can attest to your skills and abilities.

Knowing the benefits of going back to college in your 30s, or later, can help you to approach this new journey with more confidence. Something to always keep in mind is that while this new career path may be new to you, you are not new to having a career.

You know what it takes to be a quality employee and a contributing member of a team of people. This will give you a competitive edge when it comes to finding a job in your new career path. It will also help you build valuable connections as a student to propel you into your new career.

So, what will college be like for someone in their 30s?

It’s a great question, and often a roadblock that stops people from taking that much-wanted step toward becoming a nontraditional student. You may think that you will stand out like a sore thumb as the old person or be far behind in understanding difficult concepts.

This is not true.

As someone more experienced, you bring a ton of valuable insight into any classroom atmosphere and you’re not alone.

According to the Education Data Initiative, around 8% of all undergraduate college students are over the age of 25. Adult learners over the age of 30 make up around 25% of graduate students.

10 Tips for Preparing to Go Back to School

As you’re considering joining several of your peers over the age of 30 in a college program, you may be wondering how do I get there?

While you prepare for school, there are several tips to consider that make going back to college in your 30s a smoother process:

1. Outline Your Reasons

Take the time to think about why you want to go back to school and what this would do for you personally and professionally. Write it down.

2. Gain Some Insight

Talk to people you respect and admire about your idea to go back to school. Having that outside perspective will help you make your decision.

3. Have a Plan

Decide what field interests you and do some research into it. Design the path toward starting that career to gain an idea of what the next year or two or four may look like.

4. Consider Different Programs

Would online college work better for your schedule and well-being? Do you need to go full time? Look into a variety of options, like community college and for-profit education.

5. Make a Budget

When you make a budget for college, take into consideration all the costs of going back to school and create a detailed list. Divide the costs into months so that you know exactly what it would cost you.

6. Create a Schedule

Plan out when in your week you will make time for your coursework and commit to sticking to it.

7. Make Time for Yourself

Set aside some time to do something you enjoy each week. This will help you stay focused and grounded when things get busy.

8. Create a Support Network

Have friends and colleagues that are enthusiastic about your new college journey. Let them into your life often and be willing to lean on them for support.

9. Build Connections

Make new relationships with people you are going to school with. College is not just about the information you’re learning, it’s also about the experience you’re having.

10. Stay Present

Take each day as it comes, follow your schedule, and be patient. Getting too caught up in the future will make each day seem long and lead to burnout.

How Can You Afford To Go Back To School?

You’ve decided to go back to college, and now you need to figure out how to pay for it.

Knowing what the total costs will be in the program you are interested in is a big start. With those costs in mind, there are avenues to explore financial aid to make going back to school in your 30s more affordable.

Federal Financial Aid

The first step is to fill out a FAFSA - Free Application for Federal Student Aid - if you are going to attend a traditional university. You may remember filling this out in high school to pursue a bachelor’s degree. This application will ask you a series of questions about your income to determine if you qualify for a federal loan.

Even though this student loan money will be paid back, it is at a low-interest rate set by the federal government and you can choose how much to accept.

Employee Financial Aid

Make sure to check with your employer at your current job. A lot of companies will provide financial aid for employees to go back to school. For example, Amazon has a career choice program in which Outlier provides Amazon employees access to for-credit courses at no cost. This type of financial aid may be an easy way to reduce costs for you and give you some flexibility with your work schedule.


Look into scholarships that will give you money to go to school and you don’t have to pay it back. This free money is not just for high school students. Many school websites make it easy to search and apply for scholarships that fit your degree program.

Remember to look at local organizations that offer scholarships as well, which have far less competition.

Think career-oriented scholarships or student loan repayment as well. If you are considering going back to school for education or healthcare, look into the National Health Service Corps, which pays your student loans in exchange for 2-3 years of paid work at specific institutions.

Is Going Back To School In Your 30s Right For You?

Going back to school in your 30s or going back to school at 40 is a hard decision. It is critical to ask yourself, is this something I want to do? Once you know that gut feeling you have won’t go away it is time to be proactive.

Talk to people, look into programs, and make a plan that includes balancing school, work, and family. Take the time to explore scholarships that may be available to you and bring some financial ease to your decision.

Make a smaller commitment to your future by enrolling in a local community college course or online course. Certificates are a great option too. Outlier offers students up to 12 transferable credits at an affordable rate from highly qualified instructors. Imagine the opportunities and insight you would have with a semester of transferable credits under your belt!

The skills you have right now would be a huge advantage to any college degree program and career that you pursue. It’s never too late to give college a shot. Besides, it’s what you want to do.

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