November 18th, 2010
College is an investment of time and money — both of which are precious commodities when you're a full-fledged adult. For that reason, returning to college when you're well-past your early 20s can be a difficult proposition. If you're planning to make the move, consider the various pros and cons that will be involved with the experience.
Obviously, getting — or finishing — your degree is important. Not only is the education useful, but perhaps you made a promise to your parents or want to set an example for your children. There's lots of intangible value that comes with studying and knowing a subject that you deem interesting. But as an adult, you have to examine things practically. Higher education is a luxury, at least in this country, and you'll have to pay a big price for it. Keep in mind that tuition continues to rise at a steady rate each year, so imagine how much it has increased since you last strolled around on campus. If you have a family, sacrificing an additional $10,000 or so per year may not be a good idea, especially if you have kids who will attend college at some point. You can take out loans, but ultimately you'll pay more due to interest. And a return to undergrad may not yield the career results you want, especially if you're completing a generalist degree. There's no guarantee that you'll find a better job or make significantly more money in the long run.
On the other hand, your employer may be funding your return to college, most likely at the graduate level, so that you'll gain additional knowledge and skills and eventually take on more responsibility at work. This is an ideal situation because you know the extra work will pay off — literally. The only potential obstacle is time — if your employer wants you to take night and weekend classes, then you'll be spending less time with your family and partaking in other things you enjoy.
You may also be concerned about fitting in on campus as an older student. Most college campuses, especially those in urban areas, are filled with older students pursuing their degrees. Walk into any large classroom and you'll undoubtedly find a couple of people in their 30s or 40s, and no one else in the class even notices. Ultimately, only practical reasons should prevent you from going back to school. Your decision will hinge on the realities that come with being an adult.