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Going Back to College as an Adult: The Benefits

written by: Haley Drucker•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 5/15/2012

Do you feel intimidated about the thought of returning to school as an adult? Choosing to invest in an education is a good idea no matter what your age. Learn more about the benefits of returning to school for both your career and personal life goals.

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    The idea of returning to college (or attending for the first time) when you are over 25 can be intimidating. You might worry that you’ve been out of touch for too long, and you won’t be able to readjust to the school environment and keep up with the younger students. But the truth is that non-traditional students (over 25) do better in college on average than traditional students, and usually achieve higher grades and have lower dropout rates. Adults are better prepared to handle school because they are more responsible, and they have more life experience to draw on when presented with challenges. And adult college students have many motivations to keep them going.

    You might also worry that you won’t be able to deal with all your responsibilities at the same time. Adult students usually have a job, a family, or both, as well as many other obligations. It might be hard at first, but the good news is that there are enough benefits of going back to college as an adult that they outweigh the drawbacks for almost anyone. So take it slow if you have to, just one or two classes at a time, and you should encounter many if not all of these benefits.

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    Career Advancement

    In almost any career, it’s easy to see how you can benefit from further education. Another degree or certification might be just what you need to climb further up the ladder, or to get that position you’ve been eying. Employers love to see their employees going back to college, because they know you’ll be getting up-to-date information and training in the field. Often they will even pay for some or all of the tuition.

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    Changing Careers

    Many people start out in one career, but quickly become burned out or realize it just isn’t for them. Yet they feel trapped, because they don’t have the requirements and qualifications to switch to another field. If you’ve been wanting to change careers or maybe even go the self-employed route, a college education can give you the know-how and most importantly the courage to do so. Education kills fear, and you’ll have experience in multiple fields to draw on when applying for new jobs or clients.

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    Financial Improvement

    This goes hand-in-hand with the above two benefits, and is pretty straightforward. A college education, or another degree or certification, almost always leads to a higher salary. This might be due to a promotion, a raise, or a new job or position. So while it does cost a lot to go to college, it almost always pays for itself in the long run. You can also find grants for returning to college, and as noted above it might pay off to see if your current employer will pay for you to attend school.

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    Personal and Professional Relationships

    Most adults find themselves with rather limited social circles, perhaps just their coworkers and fellow parents. This is especially true for stay-at-home parents, who often get to spend little time in the company of adults. College is a social environment, and a great place to make new friends and relationships and get exposed to new kinds of people. You can also make connections with professors, other students, speakers, and visiting professionals that will become valuable future contacts.

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    Lifelong Learning

    You often hear about the importance of learning, but that is often attributed just to children. What gets left out is the importance of lifelong learning, from childhood to old age. Learning and mastering knowledge and skills keeps your mind sharp and flexible, and keeps life interesting and challenging. You learn how to learn, especially as adult learning styles are often different from those of younger students. Plus, what you learn in one area or field can always be applied to some other field or area of your life. Without new opportunities for learning, it’s easy to fall into routines and stagnation. Going back to college as an adult isn’t the only way to keep learning, but it’s a good way that exposes you to new ideas and keeps you accountable.

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    Achievement and Satisfaction

    By falling into routines and neglecting to learn and grow, adults often lack opportunities to really achieve something. This is especially true for parents, who find themselves so wrapped up in their children’s lives they often don’t have much time for themselves. Going to college and completing assignments, courses, and degrees can bring a feeling of true achievement and success, resulting in higher life satisfaction. People have a need to self-actualize, to feel like they are accomplishing something and growing as a person. College can do this, for all students but especially for the non-traditional variety.