“If only I knew then what I know now,” my friend muttered as she waved goodbye to her college-bound son.
“What do you mean?” I pressed.
“The value of a good education. You sort of need to be our age to appreciate what those kids are getting,” she said, staring ahead. “Know what I mean?”
Yes, I do know. There are more adults returning to college today compared with previous years, according to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics. Some adults going back to school, like my friend, realize they didn’t get all they wanted out of the experience the first time around. Other adults returning to college are working, eyeballing a promotion, and going back to school to help them advance. There’s even a subset of adults returning to college who want to do it for the sheer love of learning.
Whatever your “why,” one thing is certain: things have changed, and so have the benefits and drawbacks of enrolling in school later in life. Here are a few biggies you may not have realized:
Access to more information. Today, there’s more online information available than ever before. Even when relevant Q&A forums don’t deliver what you need, there are guides to help you learn modern research methods so you’re not hitting wall after wall. An example is The Mature Student’s Study Guide from
Dr. Catherine Dawson, a tool that gives you the skills to get you back in the game.
Smarter tech. Technological advances in hardware are another benefit of hitting the books as a mature adult. No matter your focus, a powerful laptop can give you an advantage. A capable machine like the Apple MacBook Pro from Newegg could be perfect for creative arts majors on the go.
Financial aid. According to experts at the nonprofit Public Agenda, adults over age 25 are significantly less likely to talk with a financial aid adviser than their younger counterparts. This often results in a lack of awareness regarding funds available. Phone your school of choice. Pipe up. Ask questions. Your wallet will thank you.
A new appreciation. Having worked in your industry, you can better appreciate exactly how valuable each course and lecture you’re taking is. Whether your thirst for education equates to better grades doesn’t matter as much: what does matter is that you’ll benefit more from your wise perspective.
More stuff to juggle. The phrase “school supplies” is back in your daily vocabulary. While it’s true you’ll need to gear up for your academic adventure, you don’t need to invite clutter into your life. An organizer can make a big difference, especially if you’re working full time while going to school. The Premium Portfolio Case with Shoulder Strap for iPad and MacBook lets you keep a MacBook Air AND a tablet AND your phone—along with pens, papers, and other small items.
Time away from family. Most 18-year-olds are eager to distance themselves from their clan and stretch their wings. Mature adult students, on the other hand, often ache at the thought of taking time away from kids’ sports, helping with housework, and spontaneous outings, to name a few. Shutterfly’s PrintFix app can neutralize this concern by having a monthly photo book automatically made and sent to you based on your oldest child’s (or partner’s) mobile phone camera roll. That way, if you’re going back to school, you won’t miss a beat.
Cognitive dissonance. Even if you’re not the only mature student in class, expect to feel a slight social disconnect. Level the playing field with a lighthearted gesture by bringing a weekly treat—think bagels or doughnuts—to class. Order ahead and use your digital wallet to get the job done without slowing you down.
Going back to school later in life isn’t for everyone, but these pros and cons can help you decide whether or not you should take the plunge.