Going Back to College to Learn New Skills or a New Trade



Using College to Add Skills to Your Toolbox

The decision to go back to college to learn a new skill or a different trade can be multi-faceted for an adult.  The complexities can range from balancing work, family life, and/or community obligations with the benefits of returning to college.  In spite of the potential complexities that are involved for adults to return to college, this segment has been growing faster than any other demographic in recent years.  The reasons for this shift vary from city to city and state to state but the macroeconomics point towards a shift in employment needs.  These needs may be industry-specific (ie. textiles, manufacturing, software, finance) and/or location-based that include varying degrees of influence from demographics, technology, productivity, innovation and a host of other factors.

Does it make sense to go back to college?  Like most questions about education, the answer is a personal decision.  Depending on your goals, aspirations, and resources it may make sense to find the time and energy to enroll in a college as an adult.  It is well documented that a college degree makes a significant impact on your earning ability throughout your career.    In fact, the United States Census Bureau has published a study revealing a person with a bachelor’s degree earns nearly twice what a person with a high school diploma earns.  In addition to the income difference, employment stability is a real factor.  In other words, the more stable and employable a person is the better off they are during times of economic uncertainty.  To underscore this point, the Pew Institute published a report indicating the unemployment rate for holders of a high school diploma at 12.2% while the unemployment rate for a person with a bachelor’s degree was 3.8%.  Put another way, holding a bachelor’s degree put a person in a situation to earn twice as much and more than twice as stable as only a high school diploma.

How will I adjust socially to college life?  Going back to college as an adult will take a shift in mindset to be sure.  The most common perception of a college student is a student just out of high school making the transition to college.  The reality is that the perception of a young college student is blending with the reality of older students.  The Washington Post published an article detailing this shift from younger students to older students with some interesting data.  A few of the highlights include: nearly half of enrolled college students are older than 21, only 41% live on-campus, 63% are full-time students, 28% have children, and 62% of students work in addition to going to college.  Nonetheless, an adult learner will need to make an effort to integrate into a classroom setting and focus on the task at hand in order to succeed.  Each of us has something valuable to learn from others and maintaining a lifelong learner mindset will serve everyone best.

What is the best way to get started?  The best way to get started is to take action.  Be proactive to learn something new every day. Take the time to assess your strengths and weaknesses.  Juxtapose that information with the employment needs in your locale to arrive a vocational overlap between what you love doing and what is viable in the marketplace.  Once you have a working understanding of your educational trajectory, visit MatchCollege and search by degree or college.  The information listed on each school will give you a better understanding of their curricular offerings.

How do I afford college as an adult learner?  It is well documented that the majority of corporations over one hundred employees have some form of tuition assistance.  Empowered with that information may encourage you to work while attending school as your employer will be further vested in your success.  If you do not work for a large employer or are not currently working, you will want to research a wide array of grants, scholarships, and fellowship programs once you identify a school and specific degree.  You will be working closely with the college or universities financial aid team to determine what options are available to you.  Take full advantage of this resource and be prepared to invest substantive time completing applications, meeting with counselors, and engaging with a variety of providers.

 

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