Going Back to School at 40 [2021 Guide]

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If you’re thinking about going back to school at 40, you might be feeling a mix of conflicting emotions. You may be apprehensive about returning to the classroom but also enthusiastic at the thought of earning a college degree.

Going Back to School at 40

It’s normal to feel both nervous and excited about going back to college in your 40s, but identifying your motivation and learning about the application process can help keep your worries in check.

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College is just for young adults, so going back to college at 30, 40, or 50 and older, to earn a college degree is a worthwhile goal that can be within your reach.

How to Go Back to School at 40

college students studying in classroom

If you’re thinking about going back to school at 40, you may need a plan. While your academic goal is achievable, it’s helpful to think through how you’re going to get there. With a plan in place, you may be on your way toward that proud moment when you receive your college degree.

These five simple steps can help you figure out your plan for going back to college after 40 or even going back to college after 50.

1. Choose a major.

college student in a library

What topic do you want to spend the next several years studying? One of the benefits of going to college at 40 is that, by now, you may have developed a clearer picture of what you want to do with the rest of your life. You can select a college major that will help support your career goals.

For example, if you want to work with numbers, you could major in accounting. If helping people is more your thing, you may consider a degree in social work. You could even major in liberal arts if you can’t narrow down the selection to a specific, career-oriented degree program.

Once you decide what type of degree to pursue, you can tailor your college search to schools that offer that program.

2. Consider campus vs. online.

college students walking in hallway

Next, think about how you want to take classes. On-campus classes can give you that traditional college feel, but online courses may fit better into a busy schedule.

For some people, on-campus study is exactly what they have in mind. They want to show up in the classroom each day, interact with classmates and professors face to face, and have the accountability of regular class times. Others, especially those juggling work or family responsibilities, prefer the flexibility and convenience of online study.

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If you decide to go this online route, you may be able to access your coursework from anywhere and at any time. You’ll still have opportunities for interaction, and you can receive an education that’s comparable to in-person studies.

Either on-campus or online college can be an excellent choice. You just have to decide which format is best for your personal preferences and schedule.

3. Explore accredited colleges.

accredited colleges

Accrediting agencies grant regional accreditation to schools that produce well-prepared graduates, so you may want to limit your search to schools with that distinction.

There are a lot of colleges out there, but you can narrow down the field by being particular with your preferences. You can limit your search to schools that offer your preferred major, utilize your preferred in-person or online format, and hold regional accreditation.

To further help as you explore college options, you may also want to consider factors like cost, curriculum, and student support services. As you weigh the pros and cons of various schools, you’ll likely notice that, in your eyes, a few colleges stand out above the rest.

4. Send in school applications.

college student studying in a library

Next is the step you’ve been waiting for: sending applications to your top schools! You may need to gather materials like a resume, letters of reference, and SAT or ACT scores, depending on the school.

You may also need to request official transcripts from your high school and any previous colleges you’ve attended.

5. Apply for financial aid.

college students studying together in a library

College can be more affordable when you have grants, loans, and scholarships on your side, but you won’t have a chance to receive them if you don’t apply. You can start by filling out the government’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to determine your eligibility.

Colleges will also use your FAFSA results to help you assemble a financial aid package, which may include state or federal grants and loans if you qualify. You can also choose to apply for scholarships. A college’s financial aid department can often provide useful guidance.

Why Should I Consider Going Back to School at 40?

college students in library

Returning to the classroom after years away can feel like a major step. Finding the right motivation can make it easier to take the plunge into your studies.

Fortunately, there are many reasons to go back to school at 40. For starters, check out the following six possible reasons:

  1. Higher earnings. As a general rule, people who go to college earn more than those who don’t. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with a high school diploma but no college studies earn an average of $39,070 each year, and people with a bachelors degree make $77,920. If you want to bolster your paycheck, getting a college degree may be the ticket.
  2. Promotions at work. Earning a degree is a big accomplishment that demonstrates your ability to overcome challenges and work toward goals. Plus, it shows that you have expert-level knowledge in your field. As a result, your employer may feel confident about trusting you with greater responsibility.
  3. Midlife career shift. Now that you’re older, you may have a clearer idea of what you want to do for a career. Getting industry-specific training can help you transition to a new field, such as business, healthcare, education, or community service.
  4. Pride and satisfaction. Think of how you may feel walking across the graduation stage or holding your diploma in your hand. Being a college graduate is a noteworthy achievement that no one will be able to take from you.
  5. Personal growth. During college, you may gain diverse knowledge that can help you become a more well-rounded individual. Plus, you may learn more about your strengths and abilities as you push yourself to study hard and work toward graduation.
  6. Positive example. Going to college could become the new norm for your family. Those around you can see that it’s possible to achieve your dreams.

What’s your reason for going back to college at 40 years old? You might have your sights set on one of the goals above, a combination of them, or a personal reason that’s all your own. Whatever your motivation, identify your inspiration and then start exploring your college choices.

Is Financial Aid Available?

College Financial Aid

Yes, financial aid is available for college students of any age who qualify. Whether you are going to college at 40 for the first time or returning to the classroom after a break, you may qualify for student aid.

There are federal programs that give grants and low-interest loans to qualifying college students, and many states offer similar programs. Finding out about your eligibility begins with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

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You can apply for scholarships as well. Some scholarship programs are aimed at adult learners, such as students who are going back to school at 40.

Should I Go Back to School at 40?

college students studying together

Regardless of your age, there may be several good reasons for you to consider going back to college.

Earning a degree may help you advance your career, get started in a new line of work, or increase your salary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that people with college degrees earn, on average, $77,920 per year.

Plus, graduating from college is an accomplishment to be proud of, and you may learn a lot about yourself in the process. Of course, everyone’s situation is different, so you’ll have to be the final judge of whether or not now is the right time for you to go back to school.

Is It Too Late to Go to College at 40?

college students in library

It’s never too late to take classes and earn a college degree! People have earned college degrees at every age—some of them even decades after their 40s.

You might discover that your break from school has provided you with a clearer idea of what you want to do with your life and how a degree can help you accomplish your goals.

Thanks to online education, going back to school as an adult is easier than ever. Online classes offer scheduling flexibility that may help you balance schoolwork with family or professional responsibilities.

Is It Worth Going Back to School at 40?

Is It Worth Going Back to School at 40

Yes, going back to school at 40 is worth it for many adult students. Those who earn a bachelor’s degree make an average salary of $77,920 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). As a point of comparison, high school graduates with no college degree earn an average salary of $39,070 per year.

Online studies can help you fit classes into your schedule, no matter how busy your life is at 40. Getting a college degree may help you earn a promotion or start a brand-new career. You may even grow as a person and set a good example for your friends and family.

Graduating from college is an accomplishment that you’ll be able to look back on with pride for years to come. Now that you know why and how to go back to school at 40, it may be time to start exploring accredited schools that offer your desired degree program.

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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.