You’ve always wanted to earn your degree or go back for your Master’s, but at this stage in your life, you may have no idea where to start. Going back to school later in life comes with its own hurdles. You’ll have to juggle your own finances along with your family life and any full- or part-time work, and you’ll need to study and complete assignments for each course.

Just the thought of starting college in your 40s or 50s can seem scary, and perhaps even pointless. The number of enrolled students age 25 and older is expected to rise through 2024, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. With technology giving them easier access to college, adult learners are overcoming their anxieties about school and embracing the possibility of using school to extend or shift careers. For people with clear goals and the inner strength, it takes to follow through, however, pursuing your dreams and earning your diploma after 40 is not impossible. All it takes is a little preparation to lay the foundation for your success.

Here are the first 7 major decisions you need to make when heading back to college, or going to college for the first time, at 40.

1. Decide which degree to pursue

Older students often come with more professional experience, even if they have less formal training. Whether you want a new degree to help you advance in your current career or to change career paths completely, it’s important to know what kind of degree and degree focus will help you achieve your specific goals. Do your research about each degree program that interests you so you can be sure that the one you choose will contribute to the future you want for yourself and your family.

Online colleges, like the University of Arizona Global Campus, offer many of the same degrees as traditional schools, but without the hassle. Each 6-week course is taken one at a time, helping to ensure you have the time and energy to balance your busy life alongside your studies.

2. Choose between an online or traditional program

The type of school and program you choose to attend can make a significant impact on your relationships, employment, and educational responsibilities. Many older students are turning to online colleges and universities because they offer more flexible schedules to accommodate full-time employment, plus digital courses and materials that support remote attendance. The ability to attend classes when, how, and where it fits your schedule has been a paradigm-shifting innovation in higher education. For midlifers with jobs, kids, or other obligations, it can even be the difference between being able to go back to school or not.

3. Set aside ample time to adjust

It may take time to get used to studying and absorbing new material in college. When you start each new course, allocate more time than you think is necessary to focus on your studies so you’ll have time to adjust your schedule outside of school as needed. If you make time for school from the outset, you’ll be less likely to drop the ball in other areas when things start to ramp up.

4. Remember why you started

Always keep in mind the reason you went back to school in the first place – whether it’s the chance to earn a promotion, make a career change, gain a sense of personal pride and accomplishment, achieve personal growth and job satisfaction, or contribute to society in a more meaningful way. Putting your goals first can keep you motivated and help you focus on what matters most when the work really piles on.

5. Consider financial aid

Beyond tuition, figure out how books and other academic costs might impact your household budget. Investigate financial resources, and make a financial plan that incorporates your school expenses. Research grants and scholarships ahead of time to ensure you meet their submission deadlines.

6. Set realistic goals

You’ll be juggling multiple responsibilities while you’re in school. It’s crucial that your goals are both realistic and responsible so that you can earn your degree without burning out in other areas of your life. Be clear on the changes and sacrifices you’re willing to make and the non-negotiables that need to remain a priority. Set daily, weekly, or monthly goals for your biggest priorities, including school, and check them regularly to see if you’re on track.

7. Believe in yourself

Going back to college can be overwhelming – to say the least. That’s why the most important step you can take before returning to school is to develop and learn to maintain an “I can do this!” attitude. Reinforce your confidence with support from friends, family, and peers, and you’ll be well on your way to earning your degree and reaching your dreams of higher education.

Preparing for going back to college after 40 is just the beginning of a beneficial journey. If you hold steady to the reasons why you wanted to go back in the first place, prove your perseverance, and put in the hard work, then you’ll be well on your way to earning that life-changing degree. If you’re considering online learning, read up on the student experience and see if it’s the right fit for you.

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Written by the University Staff

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