Going Back to School at 45 [2021 Guide]

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If you’re stuck in an unsatisfying job, if your family is pretty self-sufficient now, or if you just want to learn or try something new, going back to school at 45 years old could be the answer.

Going Back to School at 45

College can be a great way to enhance your future. Now more than ever, you may be more mature, more realistic, and likely freer to do things you always wanted to do.

Should I Consider Going Back to College at 45?

You are the only person who is qualified to answer the question of whether going back to college at 45 is right for you.

When faced with a tough decision, it often helps to start with a list of pros and cons. Here are some points to consider, but you can add or eliminate additional items.

Pros

  • Utilize your free time. Are you in a new place? Are your children now at a stage where they still need you, but they need you less because they are busy on their own? You may consider using your new free time to do something you always wanted to do and to learn something you always wanted to learn.
  • Advance your career. Are you satisfied in your job? Take stock of your career. Do you want to advance your career or maybe completely change directions?
  • Earn higher pay. Are you making the salary you are worth? Higher education usually equates with higher earnings. A college degree can unlock countless, new possibilities.
  • Follow your passion. What are your interests? Identify your passion and follow it. Do you want to learn more about art, music, animals, psychology, government, other societies, physical fitness, food, business, finance, technology, computers, or any of the hundreds of other subjects that are offered by colleges?
  • Indulge in self-development. Do you just want to improve yourself? Think about what you could do to make yourself more self-confident, assertive, and secure. College classes can help develop public speaking, writing, and math skills, just to name a few.

On the other side of the discussion, here are some questions that may cause concern when you think about returning to school at this time.

Cons

  • Will I feel out of place? Many adults tend to defer college because they think they will feel uncomfortable surrounded by classmates who are much younger. You may be surprised, though, by the welcoming kindness or your fellow students. There is often a bond that accompanies learning together and completing the same assignments.
  • Is college too expensive? Even though an investment in a degree is likely to pay off in the future, the cost of college can still be daunting. There are many sources of financial aid available to students who qualify, and you might be eligible for scholarships as well.
  • Will the classes be too difficult? It may take time to readapt to being a student when returning to school after a long absence. Most colleges are understanding, though, and offer a variety of support services, such as tutoring, workshops that enhance study skills, or classes that teach you how to succeed in college.

These are just some of the considerations people think about when deciding whether to go back to college after 40. You may decide to make your own list of pros and cons and spend some time conducting an inventory of where you are now and where you want to be.

Are Online College Degrees a Legitimate Option?

Adult college student studying online

If you are worried about cost, fitting in, or being a little lost when you start or return to college, online degrees can help to address many of your concerns.

Here are a few of the benefits to earning a degree online:

  • Comfortable environment. You can study in the comfort and convenience of your own home.
  • Flexible schedule. Class times are flexible, and you can work toward your degree during times that fit your schedule.
  • Work and school balance. You don’t have to quit your job since you can take classes that don’t interfere with your work hours.
  • Interaction with professors. Technology has made it possible to attend classes online so you can still see and interact with your professors.
  • Accredited programs. Online degree programs from accredited universities are respected and valued by employers. Graduates with online degrees have proven to be just as valuable as those who attended residential colleges.

Many scholars have recognized that online degrees are the future. Technology has made classrooms accessible, user friendly, and affordable. Online learning has opened up the benefits of college to thousands of students for whom college was too expensive, restrictive, or daunting in other aspects.

How to Go Back to College at 45

Going back to college at 45 may seem overwhelming. There are so many things to consider, but each of the rather worrisome obstacles can be conquered with some planning, conversations, and determination.

Here are some steps to help get you started:

  1. Research colleges. A good first step is to review college catalogues to make sure each offers classes in the subject you want to study. Most colleges will provide information about majors, the specialties that students want to pursue. You can also verify whether a school offers classes online.
  2. Talk to the people you’ll need to support you. Spouses, children, and employers should all understand why you want to go back to college and how the decision will impact them. Getting them on board can help you transition more smoothly.
  3. Check out the application process. You may want to pay attention to deadlines to avoid added stress. You may have to obtain letters of recommendation as well as transcripts from high school and any institution from which you’ve earned credits. You may also write a personal essay.
  4. Research financial aid. Different forms of financial aid have different requirements for eligibility. You may need income documentation or other materials, depending on the requirements. Applications for financial aid have various deadlines.
  5. Ask questions. All colleges have advisors who have only one job: helping students succeed. You can talk to them about anything. They can help guide you to a realistic and doable schedule of classes.

When you are accepted into a school, an appointment with an advisor will usually be required. Together you will review your transcripts and test scores to identify areas of strength and weakness. Your classes should match your needs and correspond to your specific profile.

In addition to academic advisors, most colleges will have personnel who specialize in areas such as financial aid, tutoring, adjusting to college, or counseling you through issues that may inhibit success. Asking for help is expected and even encouraged.

adult college students studying in library

Before concentrating on your major, you will probably have to take general education classes. These classes help provide you with the skills and themes needed for success in life, like English, mathematics, critical thinking, and communication.

It can be helpful to start with just one or two classes. This way you can test the waters and ease back in to your studies. If you have difficulty with any classes, you are encouraged to speak with your advisor to see what assistance is available to help you proceed toward your degree.

If your college is following the semester system, about 120 units of credit are often needed to graduate. If you take 15 units per semester, you may finish in 8 semesters, or 4 years. Many students, though, decide to take fewer units and finish at their own pace. As the proverb says, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Going to College at 45 for the First Time

adult college student studying in university library

Going to college at 45 for the first time may be intimidating. You finished high school long ago, and college may not have been possible or desirable back then. It is never too late to change directions and pursue something new.

College classes are full of older students who want to learn to change directions. If you are one of them, here’s a few things that can help you take the first steps toward a college degree.

  1. Read college catalogues. If you were planning a trip, you would visit websites and read brochures about places you want to see. College is the same. Each university has catalogues, in print and online, that describe majors, campus features, degree requirements, and other vitals.
  2. Decide whether online or residential college is right for you. If you have a job or family, you can still obtain an online degree that may let you take classes and study according to your own schedule. You may be surprised how fast your credits add up to a degree.
  3. Make an appointment with an academic advisor. Academic advisors can help you navigate a path to success. They can review your high school transcripts and ensure you take any required tests. They can also direct you to additional campus resources that may understand your needs.
  4. See a financial aid advisor. Colleges have offices with specialists who can help you figure out how you can pay for college and where you can go for assistance.
  5. Get an application, fill it out, and send it in. Once you are accepted, everything else may fall in line. You are not the first or only person in your 40s who decided that college was the right next step. You are ready for a new and fruitful challenge. Go for it!

College professors often discuss how much they like having students in class who are older and more mature. Some professors said that when they look at their students on the first day of class and notice a few who are older, they know that those students will often be prepared and will probably get the best grades.

Professors know that students in their 40s are in college for personal reasons. Older students aren’t there because their parents want them to be or because they don’t know what else to do. They want to be there. By the time you are 45, you may know what you want to do with the rest of your life. College can help you get there.

If you want to wake up in the morning, be excited about going to work, and feel you have accomplished things at the end of the day, college may be your stepping stone to job growth and satisfaction.

Is Financial Aid Available?

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Yes. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a government program that is designed to help qualifying students pay for college. Their website features useful information and has an application form that is easy to understand and use.

Depending on where you live and work, financial assistance might also be available from your state government or your employer. There may also be scholarships or work-study programs offered from a variety of public and private entities. Some scholarships are even designated for older students.

If you have questions regarding financial aid, you can contact your prospective colleges’ financial aid offices for more information.

Is It Too Late to Go Back to School at 45?

adult college students studying in university classroom

You’re never too old to go back to school. Adele always wanted to be a nurse. When her kids went to college, she started a nursing program. Tom loves computers and wanted to program them. Dorothy is an amateur painter who wanted to learn art history and work in a museum.

They all graduated with their degrees, and these are just a few success stories. Going back to school can be a bit confusing and maybe even frightening, but every year thousands of students start college at 45 or even go back to college at 50 and older.

The famous movie actor John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” So, what are you waiting for? Join Adele, Dorothy, and Tom, and saddle up!

I Want to Go Back to School, Where Do I Start?

adult college students meeting in library

By browsing this website and reading this article, you’ve already started your journey to a degree.

You have the first piece of your puzzle. Now you may consider creating and carrying out a plan that will put all the pieces of the higher education puzzle together in one complete picture. You may need to make many decisions and changes in your life and routine, but you don’t have to do everything at once. Take one step at a time.

It can help to do your research, to find out your options, such as the best degrees for adults returning to college. Be realistic in your goals and timetables. Most importantly, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Is It Worth Going Back to College at 45?

Going Back to College at 45

Yes, going back to college at 45 is worth it for many adult students. Those who earn a bachelor’s degree make an average salary of $64,896 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). As a point of comparison, high school graduates with no college degree earn an average salary of $38,792 per year. That’s quite the difference.

In addition to higher wages, college degrees may offer more possibilities for advancement and personal satisfaction. A college degree may let you change careers and work in fields you are interested in and care about, from astronomy to zoology and everything in between.

You may learn new technology and how to succeed in today’s global economy. You may gain skills and refine the budding talents you already have. A college degree may even open doors for you to work in a stimulating environment with people who share your passions.

Now may be your time to try something new. Now may even be your chance to do what you’ve always wanted to do.

Maureen Rubin
WRITTEN BY
Maureen Rubin
Maureen has a Juris Doctor, MA in public relations, and a BA in journalism. She is an Emeritus Professor of Journalism at California State University, Northridge and enjoyed a career working in public information at non-profits, and in Congress & the White House. She welcomes an opportunity to share educational information with readers.