Going Back to College at 35 [2021 Guide]

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There are many advantages to going back to college at 35.

Going Back to College at 35

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You might feel a bit self-conscious at being a non-traditional student, but whether you’re looking to build new skills, find new opportunities or just better yourself as a person, a college degree can be a rewarding achievement at any age.

Going Back to College at 35

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Going back to college at 35 may seem like a daunting task. Here are a few concerns that are commonly expressed by older folks:

  • I don’t have time for it.
  • I’m too old for financial aid.
  • I don’t know how colleges work these days.

Some people use these worries to talk themselves out of enrolling. What you might not realize, however, is that each problem has a solution:

  • Many degrees can be earned on your own schedule, especially if you’re enrolling in an online program with flexible, self-paced classes.
  • There’s no age limit on federal financial aid like FAFSA. You may qualify for grants and loans no matter how old you are.
  • Today’s universities have all kinds of resources for students. From tutors and career counselors to professional organizations with industry-specific networking opportunities, most universities provide plenty of support.

Being an older student does come with unique challenges. For example, you might have to juggle work and school at the same time, or you might have a family to raise in between hitting the books. Just know that millions of students can and have earned their degrees in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond.

Why Should I Consider Going Back to School?

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There are both personal and professional benefits to going back to school.

  • You want to advance your career. This is one of the most common reasons for older adults seeking education and training. They want to earn a promotion, meet eligibility requirements for a new career or just have freshly-minted qualifications for a resume.
  • You want to move into a higher earning bracket. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, master’s degree holders earn an average of $77,000 per year. This is noticeably larger than bachelor’s degree holders at $64,000 per year.
  • You’re switching careers. If everyone in your new field has a certain degree or certificate, it might be worth going back to school to make yourself competitive on the job market.
  • You want to learn new skills. This can be especially relevant in fast-moving fields like tech, medicine and business. Going back to school can help you put your finger on the pulse just like young graduates.
  • You need to rebuild or refresh your professional network. University can be a great place to meet people. You can also look into internships, residencies, student clubs and professional networks that can help put you in touch with a broader collective of people within your industry.

In addition to these real-world career benefits, you may also gain a lot of personal fulfillment from going back to school, especially if you’re finishing a degree that you set aside a long time ago. You can take pride in finally becoming the college grad that you’ve always dreamed of being.

I Want to Go Back to School. What Are My Next Steps?

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It’s easier than you might think to get the ball rolling on the college admissions process. Even if you’re juggling other responsibilities like work and family, with a bit of self-motivation, you may be ready for college in no time.

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Your first step will be choosing a university. Here are a few important things to consider as an adult learner:

  • Deadlines. Some colleges have rolling admission that can better accommodate busy students. They might also run on a quarter semester schedule that allows students to jump into classes several times per year.
  • Credits. Many adult learners go back to school as part-time students. However, full-time is also possible, and it will result in a faster graduation. Crunch the numbers and figure out how many semesters that you’ll need if you take X or Y credits each time.
  • Online learning. If you plan on taking online classes, look at their format. Are they self-paced? Are they synchronous or asynchronous? Is there enough flexibility to fit them into your schedule?

Once you’ve picked a school, start the financial aid process. Filling out the FAFSA can help you figure what federal financial aid you may be able to recieve. You can also look into private forms of aid like grants, loans and tuition reimbursement programs from your employer. There are even scholarships out there for adults returning to school after a long absence.

Advantages to Going Back to College at 35

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You’ve probably considered the challenges of going back to school in your 30s, but have you considered the benefits?

  • You’ll probably value your education. As an adult, you’ve been working in the real world for some time. You might even have a family that depends on you. You probably know exactly what a college degree can do for your life, which means you are less likely to take your schooling for granted.
  • Your life experience can help you succeed. You may have broader, richer experiences to draw from when completing your schoolwork. You are more likely to be able to contextualize your studies with real-world knowledge. Some schools may even give you credit for work or military experience.
  • Your goals may be more defined. Many teenagers have no idea what they want to study in college. By contrast, older students tend to have specific plans or career ambitions to guide them, so they can lock into their studies and move quickly through their degree programs.
  • You can manage your own experience. One nice thing about being a non-traditional student is that you can follow a non-traditional path. You don’t have to do everything like the young kids enrolling in college for the first time. For example, if you need to take night classes on a fluctuating part-time schedule, that’s an option for you.
  • You can take advantage of college resources and networks. Universities have a lot more to offer than just classes. Their roster may include internships, residencies, seminars, workshops, career fairs, counseling programs and more.

These are just a few of the advantages of being an older college student. When you realize the true depth of its potential, it may seem less and less important that you’re a little older than your classmates.

5 Tips for Going Back to College After Dropping Out

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Did you leave school without a degree? You aren’t alone. According to EducationData.org, the college dropout rate is a whopping 40 percent.

The good news is that you don’t have to remain in this statistic. You can climb out by going back to school, getting your degree and advancing your career to the level that you’ve always dreamed about. Here are just a few tips for going back to college after dropping out.

1. Time Management

One of the biggest challenges for adult learners is figuring out how to juggle college with work, family and other real-world commitments. Time management is very important.

The general rule of thumb for college classes is that one credit equals three hours of work. For example, if you take a three-credit class, you’ll likely be looking at nine hours of work per week.

How much time can you devote to your studies? How many credits is too much? Keep these questions in mind as you consider things like course loads, graduation schedules and part-time versus full-time status.

2. Research for the Right Program

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Some degree programs are better than others, especially for non-traditional students. Consider the following:

  • Do they offer online classes?
  • Will they accept your transfer credits?
  • Do they give credit for life experience?
  • Do you meet their admissions eligibility requirements?

Don’t be afraid to reach out to schools and get more information about enrolling as an older student. They might have special programs for adult or distance learners, or they might offer waivers for things like SAT/ACT scores if you’re over the age of 30.

3. Create a Plan for Your Educational Path

Planning is essential for any college degree, but it becomes especially critical when you’re an older student with commitments outside of school. You don’t have time or money to waste on a meandering path to graduation.

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This is where an advisor can come in handy. Most schools will assign one to you, but you can also seek them out on your own, and they can answer important questions about credits, classes, prices, professors, degree requirements and more. Advisors are a tool that you can utilize just as much as a textbook. Use them.

4. Decide on a Schedule

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Most bachelor’s degrees require 120 credits to complete. To get most bachelor’s degrees in four years, you’ll need to take 15 credits per semester. The equation looks like this:

  • 15 credits per semester x 2 semesters per year x 4 years = 120 credits

If you’re transferring credits, however, or if you’re taking summer classes or higher course loads each semester, you may be able to shave a lot of time off this schedule.

You can also reduce your number of credits per semester if you don’t think that you’ll be able to handle a full-time course load as an adult student. It will take longer to graduate, but a part-time schedule can be easier to bear on a daily basis.

5. Have a Plan to Pay for Your College Education

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There’s no age limit for the FAFSA. You may qualify for its grants, loans and work-study programs whether you’re 18 or 80.

There are additional ways to pay for college, too. You may ask your employer about tuition reimbursement. You may look into private grants and loans rather than state-sponsored ones. You may even find scholarships that are specifically meant for adults going back to school in their 30s and 40s.

Money doesn’t have to be a prohibitive factor in getting your degree. Even as a non-traditional student, there may financial assistance available to you.

If you find yourself struggling to keep up with the tuition costs while studying for a degree, dropping out of college and going to community college to lessen the expenses may be a good option. You can still earn a very valuable degree this way.

Can you go back to college in your 30s?

college students studying in library

Many people go back to college in their 30s. In fact, according to U.S. News, the average age for online college students is 32.

With the help of flexible, self-paced classes that don’t require classroom visits, older adults can get an education that rivals any young person’s.

Is it too late to go to college at 35?

college students studying together in library

It’s never too late to go back to school. In fact, there are several possible benefits to attending college as an older adult:

  • Your life or work experience may count for college credit.
  • You’ll probably truly value your education instead of throwing it away in favor of parties and other things that may distract younger students.
  • You can take classes that are directly relevant to your career goals.
  • You can take advantage of student resources to get ahead in your field. For example, you can apply for internships, residencies, workshops and other academic programs that will allow you to rub shoulders with industry professionals.
  • If you’ve been in your industry for awhile, you can use college to build new skills or brush up on topical subjects that can help keep you well-informed about your field.

There might be challenges, of course, in figuring out your work-life balance as a working adult. You might need to attend part time instead of full time, or you might need to take online classes during evenings or weekends. If you truly want to get a degree, however, there are ways to make it happen.

Is going back to college at 35 worth it?

A college education is worth it for many students, especially for many of those that are older and understand the value of a degree.

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Numerous studies have shown that degree holders make more money on average than dropouts or high school graduates alone, and it’s become increasingly common for employers to require a degree before they’ll give you a callback. When even entry-level jobs are asking for a bachelor’s or master’s, it may be worth going back to school to stay competitive.

How Will I Pay for My College Education?

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All college students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). There are no age restrictions, so you might qualify for just as much financial assistance as an 18-year-old freshman.

One thing to watch out for, however, is the lifetime eligibility restrictions of certain grants, including the Pell Grant. It stops paying after six years of full-time study, so if you already have several years of college under your belt, there might be a countdown to how much longer that you’ll be eligible for it.

The silver lining is that there are still plenty of financial aid opportunities to pursue outside of FAFSA. You can talk to your employer about tuition reimbursement or sponsored training programs, or you could apply for private grants, loans and scholarships.

There’s money out there for college students, including non-traditional college students. You just have to find it.

Should I Take Classes Online or On Campus?

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Many adult students enroll in online degree programs. Since all of the lectures, exams and assignments are delivered virtually, there’s no need for you to live near a college campus, and you don’t have to worry about cramming classroom visits into a busy schedule. For many online programs, you can log on and access your course materials anywhere and anytime.

Another benefit of online classes is that they can curb some of the self-consciousness that you might feel as a college student in your 30s. You won’t be surrounded by teenagers all of the time.

Last but not least, online degrees are often indistinguishable from campus-based degrees. It probably won’t say on your diploma that you were an online student. You’re the only one who will know that you earned your degree in your pajamas.

Should I Enroll Full-Time or Part-Time When Going Back To College?

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There are pros and cons to both full-time and part-time enrollment. If you’re full time, you’ll graduate faster. You can even join accelerated or dual degree programs to speed up your timetable. The drawback, of course, is that you may be quite busy as a full-time adult student with other responsibilities like a job or family.

If you’re part time, you can take classes at a more leisurely pace, which might be a necessity if you’re already going full throttle in life. The downside is that you’ll take longer to graduate and reap the professional benefits of a degree. You might also limit your eligibility for certain financial aid opportunities if you aren’t a full-time student.

To determine which way is right for you, figure out the exact degree that you want. Look at the number of credits that you’ll need for it, and determine the number of classes that you can comfortably take per semester.

Then, do the math. How long will it take you to graduate? What threshold do you need to meet for financial aid or special tuition rates? If the numbers are acceptable to you, you have your answer. If they aren’t, you’ll need to go back and tweak them some more.

Can I Keep My Full-Time Job While Going to College?

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It’s entirely possible to work and study at the same time. Lots of students do it. According to U.S. News, more than 80 percent of online bachelor’s degree seekers are employed.

You don’t have to be an online student, either, but it’s a convenient option for working adults. Since it’s all digital, you may be able to attend classes with nothing more than a smartphone and an Internet connection. Your lecturer will never know that you’re sneaking in their lesson while the kids are asleep or during your lunch break at the office.

Getting Your College Degree Online

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It isn’t easy to go back to college at 35, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. With the help of online degree programs, you can set a flexible, forgiving schedule that fits into your busy life.

You can also take advantage of your school’s educational resources to build new skills, foster more professional relationships and further your career development in a meaningful way.

There are many benefits to going back to school in your 30s. You just have to reach out to schools and get the ball rolling.

Ready to start your journey?
Jordan Meeks
WRITTEN BY
Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.