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Going Back to School at 40? Here’s How to Succeed

03.06.2022 • 7 min read

Jennifer Rivera

Subject Matter Expert

This article goes over how to go back to school if you are in your 40s. Here’s what to expect, benefits, tips, and career options.

In This Article

  1. Going Back to School in Your 40s: Where to Start

  2. Benefits of Going Back to School

  3. Frequently Asked Questions About Going Back to College

  4. 3 Benefits of Going Back to School at Any Age

  5. 7 Tips for Going Back to College in Your 40s

  6. 3 of the Best Career Fields to Choose to Get Back to College in Your 40s

Going back to school at 40 can be exhilarating and life-changing. Though there are challenges, there are also some challenges that 20-somethings have that you probably don’t. So instead of feeling far behind, let’s look ahead at:

  • How to go back to school

  • What you should go back to school for

  • What are some tips to make things easier

Going Back to School in Your 40s: Where to Start

People go back to school at 30 or 40 for a number of reasons. You should start by asking yourself:

Why do you want to go back to school?

If you are getting your bachelor’s degree for the first time, people who have a college degree have more earning potential than those with a high school diploma and are better able to weather a recession.

If you are getting a Master’s degree or higher, those benefits improve even more. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the more you learn, the more you earn. Do you need professional development? Think about these things when going back to college as an adult learner.

How much college do you need?

Are you trying to just pick up a few classes to finish your bachelor’s degree? Do you need a certificate to gain some new skills? Or are you starting fresh on a new degree? With any of these, consider completing some courses on Outlier, where you can complete a certificate fully online or take online courses that transfer to many schools.

Should you attend online or in person?

Will you be working full time while going to school? Do you have family obligations to juggle that require you to have a more flexible schedule? Do your transportation needs or geographic location make attending a physical campus more difficult?

Learning online is a great way to allow you to fit your coursework around your life needs. Then, a physical campus is a great choice when you have a more flexible schedule and you live close to a campus. Unsure whether the school near you is for you? Check the National Center for Education Statistics for more information on selected schools.

Benefits of Going Back to School

Going back to school as an older student is easier than you think. There are some real benefits to having more real-world experience than some of your fellow students.

You know why you are here

This may sound unimportant, but it’s not. There will be points when going back to school will be hard, and when you have a well thought out goal, it can make moving forward easier.

You are ready to take things seriously

You have taken serious steps to invest in your path. That means you don’t want to waste a moment of your time, and you are willing to invest the necessary time to do well in your courses.

You have prior work and life experience to draw on

Many times the best way to succeed in the classroom is to be able to apply what you are learning to real life situations so that you can more easily understand and remember concepts.

Going back to school as an older student is easier than you think. There are some real benefits to having more real-world experience than some of your fellow students.

Frequently Asked Questions About Going Back to College

Is it hard to go back to school at 40?

It isn’t harder, but the challenges are different than they are for college students in their 20s. You might have to work harder to make connections with classmates if you are in person. But you have a built-in study group by pulling together family members who are in your corner. It can be harder to earn less if you cut back on work, but you have also researched your earning potential. You know that continuing your education is worth the short-term sacrifice.

Is it worth going back to school at 40?

The answer to this is a big yes, as long as you have researched your path and know what you want to do with your education. Going back to college will give you a competitive edge since only 36% of people in the United States have a college degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of jobs in the U.S. require a college degree. So going back to school can open you up to so many more opportunities.

Is going back to school too expensive?

Getting a college degree is expensive, but there are plenty of things you can do to cut down on that expense. Apply for scholarships (lots of them!) and any financial aid you are eligible for. If you have to take out student loans, take out as few as possible. Make a budget and stick to it. Seek the advice of a financial advisor if you have access to one. Finally, choose a program that is cost effective where commuting is easy. Find ways to take your general education requirements through budget-conscious options like Outlier.

3 Benefits of Going Back to School at Any Age

You know your field of study

While there is nothing wrong with being an undecided adult student, most likely you are going back to learn specific concepts and skills. This means you have a purpose and desired outcome. Having a laser focus on what you want will help you achieve your goals in a shorter amount of time. If you aren’t sure what to study, try the Occupational Outlook Handbook to explore career paths for different degrees.

Learning delays the aging process

Whether you are in your 30s or your 50s, learning new things can help slow the aging process.

A degree can open up avenues you never thought of

If you are going back to school in your 40s, you might learn of new career opportunities or careers that you didn’t even know existed.

7 Tips for Going Back to College in Your 40s

1. Manage your time.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, but find all those small spaces of time to study. If you are going to class on a campus, even use those bits of time between classes to study.

2. Take all-inclusive courses.

Instead of paying additional course costs for items such as textbooks and additional supplies, look for courses where everything is included. Not only because they are less expensive, but because you know the cost upfront and can budget accordingly. Outlier courses are a great example

3. Form a study group.

Find a group for each of your classes that you can turn to for questions, quiz practice, and discussions about concepts.

4. Teach in order to learn.

To help learn new concepts, become a tutor or try to teach them to friends and family. Often in trying to teach a concept to others you end up learning it better yourself.

5. Have family study time.

If you have school-aged children or other members in the household, have family study time every day. This can be made even more enjoyable by preparing inexpensive snacks like popcorn to enjoy while studying.

6. Plan your meals in advance.

Spend as little time as possible in the kitchen. Plan easy meals out ahead of time, prep what you can once a week, and enlist family members to help make mealtime a bit easier.

7. Let go of perfection.

Prioritize what needs to be done well. Dusting probably isn’t one of those things. Let some of the house cleaning go just a bit. Let some of your typical weekly chores be a little bit easier, or get through them more quickly without them being perfect. Enlist your family to help out, and don’t worry about perfection with them either. Know the things that are most important to you, and let other things slide a bit.

3 of the Best Career Fields to Choose to Get Back to College in Your 40s

It’s important knowing there will be a viable career for you when you go back to school in your 40s. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects these three areas to have faster than average job growth between now and 2030.

1. Health Care

After COVID, health care professions are more important than ever. Medical aids, registered nurses, and physical therapist assistants are all jobs that are increasing. Depending on the level you choose, these jobs can take as few as two years of higher education.

2. Education

Many teachers are retiring within the next decade. This leaves open a wide variety of jobs at all levels of education. Look carefully at the region where you want to live and take a look at the types of jobs that might be available. Jobs in science and mathematics are the most in demand, along with teachers who are bilingual.

3. Computer Information and Technology

For better or for worse, technology is here to stay. The job market in technology and computer information is growing by leaps and bounds—for everything from web developers to information security. The great thing about technology jobs is that new jobs—ones we didn't know we needed—are always being created.

Going back to school is absolutely possible in your 40s. With some planning, forethought, and good support, you can make a decision that can launch you into a career change, job satisfaction, and financial stability.

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