Back to school at age 30, 40, beyond


LA JOLLA, Calif. – Have you ever thought about going back to school?  One recent survey found 54-percent of working adults say they plan on going back at some point. Adrian Lang thought about going back to college for years, but at 47 she decided it was finally time.

"I didn't want to be wondering at the end of my life should I have tried it," she said.

Now, Lang is working towards a master's in social work.  At six weeks in, she's keeping up, but says the challenges are different this time around.

"Finding out how much quicker these younger kids can do it, I'm just amazed," Lang said.   

College admissions expert Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz says while it might be intimidating, it's never too late to go back to school.

"Almost all the students that I see in that category not only get in but they totally excel because they know who they are," Shaevitz said. "They know what they want to do."

If you're considering going back, here are some tips: conduct information interviews, where you talk to people in your desired field. Also, shadow them and volunteer to find out if you really like the work.

"Do the homework, so you know exactly what you want to do," Shaevitz explained.  

Also, take a community college class first to gauge your skills. Find an advisor who can walk you through your options, and look for financial aid. You can fill out a free application for federal aid at FAFSA.edu.gov.  Remember that scholarships are available for older students too, and don't be afraid of failure.

"If you don't make it the first time around, try it again", Shaevtiz said. "If you don't make it the second time around, try it again." 

Lang hopes her degree will land her a job in the mental health field, but for now she's enjoying being a student again.

"My life's exciting again!" she said.

A couple more tips: make sure you also cash in on tax credits for students, partnering up with other peers your age can be helpful, and use any campus resources such as tutoring to help you succeed.

Tips for Making a Return to College as an Adult More Affordable

  • Shop Around – Compare costs at different schools. The U.S. Department of Education website allows you to compare different types of schools and tuition costs.
  • Get Help – Apply for grants and scholarships. Don't think that grants and scholarships are only for young people. Today many programs target non-traditional students. AARP has a scholarship for women over 50.
  • Ask Your Boss – Major employers are not the only ones that offer aid for continuing education. Ask your employer to provide financial aid as you improve your skills.
  • Apply for Federal Work Study – Get an edge over younger students by applying for positions on campus. Employers on college campuses value the work ethic of mature students over younger ones.
  • Look Into a Community College – Doing your first two years at a community college can save you a lot of money. Community colleges account for 40 percent of all enrollments in U.S. higher education.
  • Study Abroad – You can enjoy lower tuition rates and get to travel by attending school in another country. A list of some of the most respected institutions in the world can be found on the Times Higher Education website.
  • Easy on Textbooks – Campus bookstores are not the only option anymore. You can get great deals from sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Other sites, like Chegg.com, allow you to rent textbooks, buy used books at a reduced price, or even download e-book versions.