Fast Fact

The average worker stays at each of his or her jobs for 4.2 years.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2018

The Decision to Return to School

The decision to return to school is never easy, especially if you've been out of the classroom for a while. Not sure you can do it? Many others are taking the first step… enrollment of nontraditional students is up 30% to 40% in recent years.

Some common reasons for the surge in education among this population include:

But everyone's situation is unique, and regardless of your reason, going back to school requires a personal commitment. It takes time and money, and if you're working full time or raising a family, you'll have a lot to juggle. Take a look at the big picture to make sure you are comfortable with whatever decision you make.

The Impact on Your Career

Here's a fact: The more education you get, the more your professional life will benefit. And the benefits are multifold:

More job opportunities

More than 60% of the new jobs created in this country each year require at least a bachelor's degree. And by 2012, more than 90% will require education beyond high school.

With more job opportunities comes more choice—choice of position, choice of work hours, choice of job location.

More pay

In their lifetime, college graduates earn about $1 million more than high school graduates. For a better idea of what this means, take a look at these median annual salaries from 2009:

  • $53,300 for a bachelor's degree
  • $39,572 for an associate's degree
  • $32,552 for a high school diploma

Lower risk of unemployment

In 2009, the unemployment rates based on degree earned were:

  • 5.2% for a bachelor's degree
  • 6.8% for an associate's degree
  • 9.7% for a high school diploma

And college graduates who get laid off generally find work faster than high school graduates do. The reason? More and more in the United States, there are fewer openings in low-skilled, entry-level jobs.

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The Impact of Your Career on Your Studies

There are advantages and disadvantages to working full time while going to school.

Advantages of Working Disadvantages of Working
  • Your studies will likely benefit your professional life in some way. Nontraditional students often choose a major related to their career (54% vs 31% for traditional students), especially if they are seeking career advancement.
  • You will have more skills and be more prepared for the working world when you leave school.
  • You may be eligible for employer tuition assistance or course credit due to on-the-job experience.
  • Working may limit your class schedule, including the number and choice of classes.
  • You'll have less time for studying and going to the library.
  • With so much on your plate, it may be more challenging to ace your classes.

Two-thirds of the people who have the dual roles of employee and student consider themselves an employee first, meaning the job takes priority. If this is you, make sure your school work does not suffer.

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The Impact on Your Time

As a nontraditional student, you run the risk of taking on too much when you return to school, increasing the likelihood that you will perform poorly and drop out. In fact, many nontraditional students drop out in their 1st year of study!

Don't let this happen to you. Figure out what you can handle time-wise, and don't overextend yourself.

Work—If you plan to work while going to school, ask your employer if you can have a flexible schedule. About 75% of nontraditional students who work report that their employers offered flexible schedules to accommodate their studies.

School—For every 1 hour you spend in the classroom, expect to spend up to 2 hours on homework, studying, or research. So before you pursue more schooling, work to create a realistic time management plan.

Family—If you are a parent, you may think you don't have time to raise children and go to school. But many schools are finding ways to help nontraditional students manage their family life while pursuing higher education.

A couple of options:

No matter what solution you find, school will definitely limit your available time. You'll need to make an extra effort to set aside some time for life's other responsibilities even when life gets busy.

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The Importance of Goal Setting

Returning to school will increase the number of items on your to-do list, not just this week but for the foreseeable future. The best way to stay focused is to document your goals before you start school and keep them someplace visible.

A couple of tips:

Here are some examples:

If your long-term goal is… Then a short-term goal may be… And an immediate goal may be…
Get my associate's degree Take two classes this year Request a course catalog from a local school
Get a job making $10,000 more than I do now Visit my school's career placement center once a month to discuss career options Identify three jobs that have starting salaries in the range I'm looking for
Finish school with less than $8,000 in additional debt Find and apply for 10 scholarships and/or grants Total up all of my current debt

By identifying your long-term goals and breaking them down into smaller goals, you can create a plan that should be easy to implement and manage. Remember to always keep your eye on your goals, especially if you ever feel overwhelmed.

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