Going Back to School At 30: Why & Why Not
According to a 2017 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, workers with a college degree were far more likely to have a job than workers who lacked a college education.
Yet, the idea of going back to school as a 30-something can seem daunting. Life is a lot more complex than it was in your 20s. You might be wondering if it’s possible to balance the demands of being a student while simultaneously juggling a day job and family responsibilities. And you might even be questioning your ability to meet the demands of the coursework itself.
The good news is that mature students (in their 30s and beyond) are actually perfectly positioned to earn their college degree. Let’s explore the reasons why going back to school at 30 might be your best idea yet.
4 Reasons Why Getting Your Degree at 30 is a Great Idea
One of the benefits of going back to school in your 30s is the on-the-job experience you’ve amassed over the past 12+ years. You’re at an advantage compared to students who have nothing on their résumé. Why? You’ve had time to learn what you enjoy doing, what you don’t like, what you’re good at, and where your greatest areas for improvement are.
You may want more thorough, in-depth knowledge of a subject. Or maybe there’s a particular skill missing from your professional toolbox. Whether it’s detailed focus of a general field or a very specific skill set, not having this knowledge can hold you back from growing professionally.
Or maybe there’s something you’ve always wanted to learn (for the sake of learning). Many people choose to finish their studies for personal development alone. Always wanted to master a second language or learn more about financial planning? Go for it!
Speaking of on-the-job experience, another fabulous benefit of going back to school a bit later in life is your developed sense of direction. Oftentimes, students in their 20s are unsure about what they want to study. Or they receive a degree and later realize that working in that field is not what they thought it would be.
Good news! If you’re ready for a career change, you have an advantage over less mature college students due to your previous employment experiences. What you’ve learned on-the-job—your understanding of what you want (and don’t want)—means you’re more confident and focused on the goals ahead.
How to Make Going Back to School at 30 Possible
1. Position Yourself for Your Future-Ready Career
Your skills need to improve at the speed of technology — which is lightning fast. To position yourself for the future, you’ll likely need advanced technical training that allows you to stay on top of new changes.
Learn the industry’s standard requirements by reading job postings and noting the educational and technical qualifications. Make sure, too, that the industry is on an upward trajectory so that your effort will pay off. You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars, only to be told you’re now “overqualified.”
2. Learn the Lingo: Certificates, Certifications, and Degrees
Certificates are generally awarded in non-degree granting programs. You take classes to bolster your knowledge on a particular subject. But make no mistake: adding this information to your resume will help you stand out. After all, you’re showing a commitment to lifelong learning!
An MBA (Masters of Business Administration) is often required if you plan on transferring to a financial field. An MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) allows writers to teach at accredited schools and colleges.
If you can’t see yourself leaving your job for a few years to pursue these degrees, investigate Executive MBAs and other low-residency options. Maybe there’s a way to accumulate credits toward your degree while you hold down your job.
For those who want to supercharge your learning ability and pick up any skills faster, try the Learn Anything Fast Handbook offered by Lifehack. It will surely upgrade your learning skills right away. Find out more about the Handbook here.
3. Find Your Balance
Not only do you have the demands of staying on top of course work, but you also may likely have to balance them with the demands of your day job — and perhaps even a spouse and kids.
Do your research before choosing a school or program. Look up the school’s program rankings and make note of the program’s graduation rate and what types of jobs its graduates land. Write yourself a goals chart, and tack it on a bulletin board above your home computer. Studies show that writing down your goals is the best way to achieve them.
And what about online options? Online programs may be your best choice in terms of convenience and targeted degree options. But they sometimes lack the cachet of the in-person study programs.
Before deciding to go the online route, make sure the school is reputable, accredited, and that students are offered the support they need. Look for reviews to give you a glimpse of student reactions to various programs.
If you can afford to take time off from your current job and return to campus, you may find it easier to foster new connections among professors and classmates who will hopefully all become an integral part of your business network.
As you investigate how to straddle the simultaneous demands of work and school, determine whether you can cut back to part-time work and go to school full-time. If so, you’ll finish your degree more quickly.
But, if you need to maintain a full-time job, find out in advance the minimum course load for enrollment. While part-time enrollment can make work more manageable, it may not allow you to be eligible for financial aid.
4. Tell Yourself: It’s Never Too Late to Learn
While further training is one lure to send you back to school at 30 or beyond, you might also decide that it’s important to finish a degree that you started, but for various reasons put on hold.
This was the case with Shaquille O’Neal, or “Shaq” as he’s widely known. He embarked on his 19-year NBA career having completed only three years at Louisiana State University. But he later earned his Bachelor’s in general studies, and went on to earn an MBA and then a PhD in education.
Steven Spielberg was also compelled to finish a degree he hadn’t completed. He dropped out of California State University, Long Beach, just a few credits short of earning his degree. More than three decades later, he finished his requirements, which included submitting his film, “Schindler’s List,” to satisfy a film course requirement.
It’s possible that, by age 30, you’ve discovered the career direction you pursued in your 20s is to no longer a field in which you ultimately want to remain. This happened with Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett Packard and U.S. presidential candidate in 2016. 
She enrolled in law school after earning a history and philosophy undergraduate degree from Stanford. But after one semester, she dropped out and found employment at a commercial property brokerage firm. Ultimately, she wanted to explore other areas of business and went back to earn an MBA. It landed her a job at AT&T, where she was promoted within two years to a management position. The company sponsored Fiorina in a fellowship program at the Sloan School of Management at MIT that set her on her trajectory to become CEO of HP.
The Bottom Line
Ideally, your education should open doors to a career that will allow you to pay back any resulting student debt. Still, it’s important that you do the math to know whether it will pay in the long run to go back to school. Compare the cost of tuition and other fees with the revenue you’ll likely earn.
It’s a good idea to tell your coworkers and boss that you’re going back to school. This will show them that you have the drive to better yourself. When they know what you’re undertaking, they may be more understanding as you juggle your added responsibilities. Your employer might also be able to help out with paying some of the cost if the company has a tuition-reimbursement program.
Going back to school at 30 will show current and future employers that your brain is still active and your outlook is still expansive. At 30 — and beyond — there’s no reason not to pursue schooling that will pay dividends in the future.
7. Explore financial aid opportunities.
Did you know that you qualify for FAFSA even as a part-time online student? Depending on how much time and cost you can invest into your program, applying for financial aid can ease that aspect of your transition back into your education.
“Now that I am chasing a dual master’s from two different universities, the FASFA has made it possible to obtain this level of education and experience. There is a huge barrier for many who are scared or leery of using FASFA because they don’t want to pay back school loans. I would urge anyone serious about their education and career potential to look further into the FASFA program and see that it’s not as expensive nor difficult to pay back loans. Some career fields qualify for loan forgiveness after a certain amount of years served in that career field.” – Justin Kerbow
Choose a school that is geared towards your needs as an adult learner. Examine the help and resources that would be available to you. Does the accreditation of the school matter to you? You can find out this information by speaking to an alumni of the school or contacting the school directly.
Once you have chosen a school that fits your needs as an adult-learner, research the program you’re interested in enrolling in. Does the program offer the training and skill-set you’re looking for? Does the program offer the flexibility you need to balance your wok, school and life? What skills and credits that you’ve already acquired are transferable to the program?
Does your employee offer a tuition reimbursement program? Programs like the Arizona Online Corporate Initiative partners with employers to create affordable higher-education opportunities for working adults. You can check with your Human Resources department today to see if your organization is part of the Corporate Initiative program or other reimbursement programs.
Review postings of your dream job to understand what the requirements and the desired skill-set are. Landing your dream job might require an undergraduate certificate, which can be completed faster and is often less expensive than a degree program. Graduate or professional certificates often require undergraduate degrees or professional experience but are a great way to up-skill in technical or educational fields.
It’s never too late to go back to school. Lifelong learning can not only help with personal development such as strengthening memory and opening your mind, its also essential to giving you a competitive edge in the job market, making you that much more employable! Plus, research shows that the average online college student is in their 30s. So its It’s definitely not too late to go back to school at 30!
Careers that require advanced degrees or specialized skill sets will most likely equate to a higher earning potential so careers in the following fields are worth re-enrolling for: Healthcare, Nursing, Information Technology, Engineering, Busienss and Finance.
Yes. You can work full-time while studying although it can be demanding. Online programs allow for flexibility and the freedom to complete classes on your schedule. Developing a schedule for yourself with help with finding the right work, school and life balance. You also have access to faculty and advisors who can help develop and support your academic journey so that you can manage the priorities in your life.