America’s economy is floundering. Unemployment rates are on the rise with some states at unprecedented levels. And it took well over a year for the Fed to admit we are in a recession. With costs-of-living far above any one person’s average annual income, the experience-based, one-income household has become a thing of the past. Instead of ample job opportunities at fair wages, people from late teens to almost-retired are competing for the same jobs which can generally be classified into two categories: those requiring a degree and those that do not. The ones which don’t require a degree also don’t usually pay well enough to support one person, much less a family. And since most adults have some sort of household to support, this creates a problem for adults with no degree. But going back to school and getting a degree can be very overwhelming. Can I do it this time? Can I afford this? What about the kids? How will I work and still go to school? Will I fit in? These are some of many questions an anxious adult student faces when deciding to return to school to get that much-needed degree. If you are in this category, you need to know is that you don’t have as much to fear as you may think. You see, as an adult student, you’re on a whole different level than traditional students.
Today’s jobs may entail the same responsibilities and rely upon the same levels of experience, but the good jobs usually require education and experience. Young people fresh from high school don’t have this combination; and many much older people, while experienced, lack that important piece of paper. For the typical adult in the middle of these categories, golden opportunity exists, but often only for the ones with a degree.
If this is the issue you face, you must decide. Is going back to school to get that paper worth it? Of course it is. It’s the only way to be competitive. But then anxiety sets in. Those nagging questions may plague you day and night. But what you don’t realize is, you’ve got it made before you even step foot through the doors! To help put your mind at ease, here is a rundown of just why there’s really no need to fear. After all, you really are on a whole different level in so many ways.
- Can I do it this time? Sure, math seems like Greek these days, but most schools recognize this. When you decide to enroll in college, the school will likely ask you to take a few tests. This is actually a good thing. You won’t get a failing grade on your record and they won’t tell you you’re not good enough. Fact is, the tests are a great tool. If you’re strong in an area, it places you right up in the required courses for your degree. If you’re weak in an area, it lets you take a little developmental coursework to refresh your memory, give you new knowledge, and work you quickly into the curriculum you’ll need to undertake. Either way, you win. So no matter what you may think your abilities are, you can do it this time. Your school will make sure you get exactly what you need to navigate the courses at your speed. Even better, I don’t know of any legitimate school that doesn’t have free tutoring and counseling for students. Short of just ignoring the class altogether, there’s no way you can fail.
- Can I afford this? The better question is, can you afford not to do this? All accredited, worthy schools have financial aid departments just waiting to help you understand how to finance an education. Financial aid staff are very happy to see you at school because they know you’re serious and are far less likely to do anything that would jeopardize whatever financial aid you get. It’s actually a simple process. You complete one form that every student completes, the “FAFSA” (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). You simply fill in your demographic and financial information and submit, wait a few weeks, and the school goes to work putting together a financial aid package that will work for you. You can even complete this self-explanatory, simple form online in less than an hour. Your award amounts are based on the anticipated cost of education (including books and transportation costs) compared to your family’s previous year’s income. Think you don’t earn enough to go to school? The FAFSA will reflect that and the financial aid department can put together a package that is very fair, often covering everything needed by way of grants, loans, and scholarships. And if you made one amount last year, but don’t expect to make the same this year because you may decide to stop working or decrease your hours, you simply talk to a financial aid counselor, fill out a piece of paper that says just that, and they adjust your award package. Schools are so happy to have you there that they bend over backwards to get you whatever financial aid you may need, so no unexpected or added expenses to strain your household budget. Better yet, many schools have special scholarship funds available, and while they won’t tell you this, you are often first in line to be considered for these because you need it more, you meet certain criteria, or they just want to invest in adult students who won’t let them down. Simply ask or apply for it, because there is always some grant or scholarship money your school is willing and happy to give you. Just be sure to respect deadlines and show initiative. It really is that simple. Bottom line? You can afford this, no matter what your income bracket.
- What about the kids? Every problem has a solution, and this is no exception. If your kids are still young and you care for them at home, you can either go at night or get part-time child care. After all, for a typical course load of 15 semester hours, you’re only physically in class an average of 3 hours a day. You don’t even have to schedule it so you’re there every day. You could go only 2 or 3 days a week and still be a full-time student; or, you could choose to pace yourself and be a part-time student going only once or twice a week. There are also distance learning, online, and “course in a bag” classes to eliminate this problem. All you need is access to a computer and the internet or a television with a DVD player. Simply get the materials, review at home, and do the assignments. Your professor or tutoring center is only a phone call or visit away if you need help. If your kids aren’t still young and at home, you can work your schedule around theirs. No matter how you look at it, your kids aren’t an impediment to your ability to go. You can work around that the same way you would as if you were going to a job. As an added bonus, you’re setting a great example for kids watching mom or dad get a proper education!
- How will I work and still go to school? Schools offer day or night classes which you can work around your job schedule. There’s also the convenience of those online and “course-in-a-bag” classes you can do during your off hours. Or, you could consider cutting your hours back and going to school during the hours when you would have been at work anyway. No matter how you look at it, you can keep your job-if you wish-and still get an education because of the flexibility schools offer adult students today. Better yet, many employers value education so much, they will let you work around your school schedule and even offer incentives like helping pay for your classes or giving you a promotion upon completion.
- Here’s the best part: Professors and traditional students love adult students. While they don’t necessarily view you as peers, they do view you as serious adults. Sometimes when you need special consideration, professors will give it to you because of your circumstances, even when they wouldn’t give it to others. They want you to succeed. They respect you for taking this leap. And they value the perspective and input you bring to the learning environment. They’re happier to see you there than anyone because it makes them feel that there really is somebody in class for whom they are making a difference-and that’s the reason they’re teachers anyway. And those young students? They’re no match for you. You’re on a whole different level. There’s no need to feel inferior or self-conscious because in reality, those kids look up to you. They respect what you’re doing. They want to be like you. If you look closely, you’ll even notice them following your lead or asking your advice.
So if you’re thinking about going back to school, “just do it!” There’s no argument against it that can’t be solved and every argument for it that makes it the best move you will ever make. You’ll be more competitive, feel better about yourself, and win the respect of everyone around you. After all, you truly are on a whole different level.
Shannon Smith is a former Supermom who now enjoys freelance writing, business consulting, and helping clients plan their cruise vacations. When she’s not bogged down with a million things to do trying to give her kids the best opportunities possible, she loves taking occasional naps (ahh!). She raised and home schooled two successful children singlehandedly while getting her honors degree day and night, working full time, and coaching at least two sports-one for each child-simultaneously year-round. But at the end of the day, she’s just “Mom” and that’s the best title of all.
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