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Adults Going Back To School - Now More Than Ever

Adults Going Back To School - Now More Than Ever


Many adults dream of going back to school and earning a diploma, degree, or technical credential to enhance their employability and earning power. Many of them abandon that dream because they don't believe that it's realistic. Potential adult learners are often concerned that they can't afford more education; they don't have enough time to juggle work, family, and school obligations, or even that they simply won't be able to keep up and fit in with their younger peers. Even with the overwhelming evidence of the positive impact of adult education, many people let these anxieties stop them from taking that first step towards their personal and professional growth. With a little courage and a lot of planning, most adult students come to realize that their fears were unfounded and pale in comparison to the advantages of going back to school.

More Adults Are Choosing Education

If you're an adult thinking about going back to school, you're not alone. In 2015, 40% of undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate college students were over the age of 25, and that number has been steadily increasing over the past few years.[1] Some are college dropouts or high school graduates that never earned their university degrees. Some are older people in the workforce looking to update their knowledge or learn new things that are relevant to their jobs. Some are even people looking to make a career change and need the training to break into a new industry.

With the rise of certificate and online programs, it's no longer a sacrifice to complete a course or earn a degree. Most universities and colleges can cater to students who require more flexible hours and reduced workloads, offering on-campus childcare services, accelerated curriculums, part-time or weekend-only scheduling options, and better assistance programs for adult learners.

There are many incentives to take on additional schooling: salary increases, job security, career opportunities and enhanced respect in the workplace are just the beginning. For as many reasons as there are adult learners, more and more adults are finding that further learning is more accessible than it has ever been.

How Adult Education Can Help You
Whether it's to get a GED, finally graduate from college, get professional certification, or take a short training program, no one is too old to enjoy the many benefits of going back to school.

Whether it's to get a GED, finally graduate from college, get professional certification, or take a short training program, no one is too old to enjoy the many benefits of going back to school.

Demand a higher salary. High school dropouts earn a median weekly salary of $493. In comparison, high school graduates get $678, college dropouts get $738, college graduates earn $1137, master's degree holders earn $1341, and workers with professional degrees have a median weekly pay of $1730.[2] Even if you don't earn an advanced degree and merely choose to just take a short certificate course in a specific area of study, your advanced knowledge of the subject will make it easier to ask for higher pay from potential employers.

Polish your skills – or develop new ones. In highly innovative industries like art, business, and science, new technologies and strategies are constantly disrupting these fields. You can stay at the top of your profession by incorporating new knowledge into your skillsets or taking a refresher course about the things you learned long ago. The demand for cross-trained and hybrid-skilled workers is also at an all-time high. A programmer can learn a thing or two about user interface and experience from web design courses. An art director might find copywriting classes to be useful, and virtually every industry can benefit from someone trained in industrial engineering or management. The more things you know how to do, the more you can offer to your potential employers, and the more valuable you are as an employee.


Increase your value at work. Employers will want to take advantage of your advanced expertise if you specialize, or capitalize on your general capabilities and knowledge if you decide to branch out into different fields of study. Going back to school also helps you exercise crucial soft skills such as interpersonal strategies and management techniques, which makes you a more valuable asset to the company and harder to replace.

Open up your career to different professional opportunities. Whether you're eyeing a promotion at your current job or looking to make a radical shift to a completely different industry, additional education is the right place to start. Your company will appreciate the extra effort you've put into becoming a more knowledgeable and capable worker, and the skills you've picked up make you an attractive candidate for career advancement. If you're one of the many people who decided their current industry isn't for them, you can confidently go back to school to take classes that are more aligned with your true passions.

Build a professional network. You'll meet people with similar interests and ambitions at your classes. Not only are they a beneficial support system while you're working towards your own professional goals, but they may prove to be valuable connections in the future if you're having trouble looking for employment. Universities and colleges also usually have ties to corporations and recruiters, and may even have job placement programs for after you finish your education. Your professor or instructor is also an invaluable resource for future work and further educational opportunities.

Get tax benefits. Returning students can deduct the cost of their adult education from their taxes. The IRS allows you to list qualified work-related training (and the adjacent transportation and travel expenses) as a business expense. You can also avail of the American Opportunity Credit for up to $2500 for a four-year bachelor's degree program. If you've already earned your bachelor's degree, the Lifetime Learning Credit might be a better option. You can claim up to $2000 for any post-secondary education, including certificate courses and graduate work.[3] If you're considering going back to school, you should include these incentives in your cost/benefit assessment!

Can You Afford It?

Education in America can be brutally expensive, and many potential adult students are deterred by what they believe will be unmanageable costs. Don't give up too soon. There are dozens of scholarship and incentive programs designed to support adult learners in their quest for self-development. We have a whole article on financing adult education here.

Should You Take the Plunge?

Returning to school can mean finishing a degree you started but never finished, earning a second or post-graduate degree, or even just taking a weeks-long certificate course online. Whatever the method or the motivation, if you decide to pursue higher education as an adult, a whole new world of opportunities awaits you, including higher pay, increased chances for promotion, and new and sharpened skills that you can bring with you throughout the rest of your professional life.

So, is it worth it for you? That's a question only you can answer. Each of us is different, and we all have unique goals and constraints. If you are thinking about it, though, rest assured that millions of other Americans have stood in your shoes, many of them have taken the plunge, and the results are often life-changing. It's not an easy decision to make, but don't let that deter you. If you don't try, you might spend the rest of your life wondering what might have happened if you had. There's no assurance that it will be easy, but the goal is more than worth it!