Returning to School in Mid Life: You Won't Be Alone

Once you've decided to make a mid life career change, you may find that you need additional education. Perhaps it's been 10, 20 or even 30 years since you sat in a classroom and the thought of returning to school may be overwhelming to you. Don't let a lack of education or specialized training keep you from making a career change.

Community colleges, four year colleges and trade/vocational schools are increasingly seeing larger numbers of older students enrolling.

Here are some interesting numbers:

  • As of 2008 15% of all community college students were age 40 or older.
  • The National Center for Education Statistics projects that from 2010 through 2020 there will be a 20% increase in enrollments of students over age 25 .
  • Since 2009 the overall age of college students has been rising, even at tradtional colleges. The average age of students at Harvard and Notre Dame is 27 . At for-profit University of Phoenix the average age is 35-37 .
  • 38% of all college students are over 25. In trade or vocational schools which offer specialized career or job training such as auto mechanic, culinary arts, or medical assisting, the ages are even older, with many students in their 40s and 50s.

So not to worry, chances are you won't be sitting in a room full of 20-somethings. (On a personal note, I went back to school and completed a graduate degree when I was over 50) As our population ages in general and people move into new second or even third careers, the non-traditional/older student will become much more common.

Many schools (colleges, community colleges and vocational schools) have altered their programs to meet the needs of an adult student:

  • Courses start continuously throughout the year, rather than the traditional September-June school year
  • Classes are often taught by working professionals in the field, rather than by academics. Instructors have real-time real-world knowledge of the industry so can better prepare students for the reality of the working world.
  • Classes are offered in the evenings and weekends to accomodate full-time employees

As a mature student, you have many advantages:

  • You are focused on getting an education, not partying like some 18 year old college students away from home for the first time
  • You have experience and historical perspective that will be an advantage in many subjects
  • You are motivated. You know why you are there and that is to make big changes in your life
  • You appreciate the opportunity and value your learning. You know what doors it will open for you
  • You are committed to making an investment in yourself

If you are nervous about sitting in a classroom again , know that many schools have "life-long learner" programs or "re-entry student" programs to facilitate your adjustment and ensure your success. I had returned to graduate school, not having been a student for about 17 years and the first few weeks were a little overwhelming. Before long, I settled into a routine and managed to get all my work done and get straight As in my courses. You can too!

So don't let your nervousness about going back to school keep you from finding your dream career. Once in school, enjoy the process. Remember you are building a wonderful new career for yourself.