When Claire Pruner of Bristol, Tennessee turned 35, her children were in elementary school and she was working part time. Realizing that their household expenses would only increase in the coming years, she and her husband, Jon, had a heart-to-heart.
“I’d never gotten a degree beyond high school. We realized that as the boys got older I’d have the time to work full time, but not the ability to make as much money as we thought we’d need,” she said. “I decided to get my AAS in Nursing because a nearby college offered the program, plus a local hospital offered full tuition reimbursement with a three-year work commitment. Now, I’m 42 years old and a full time hospice nurse. I couldn’t have known it then, but I’ve found my calling. Nursing is a perfect career for me.”
Many people like Claire find themselves going back to school later in life. Often, it’s for greater earning potential, but sometimes it’s to follow a passion. At age 44, Vicki Entreken of Valrico, Florida returned to college to complete her BA in English-Creative Writing, and then went on to complete her MFA in Creative Writing. “I was a process improvement analyst, but couldn’t get the same position for another company without a bachelor’s degree,” she says. “When trying for a lower level position in process improvement or project management, I was considered overqualified. I was stuck in nowhere-land. I could have gone back to school for a degree to get a project management job, but instead I chose to follow my dream of being a writer.”
Vicki currently works as an associate editor for a literary journal, freelances, and is completing her first book of creative non-fiction. “Changing industries (from banking to the literary world) was a scary and risky decision to make, but I don’t regret a single minute of it,” she said.
Weighing the pros and cons of returning to school can be daunting. Would completing a master’s degree fulfill a lifetime goal? Or would returning for your bachelor’s give you greater opportunities to advance your existing career?
One of the first things to consider is the cost. According to the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges, tuition and fees for public universities increased 14 percent in 2015 over the prior five years, following a 13 percent increase between 2005 and 2011. Employer reimbursements are becoming more and more available. In addition, government financial aid is also available to returning students, depending on household income. However, it is key that your earning potential following the degree program can cover your student loans.
Another consideration in returning to school is balancing the time for studying, classes, and all the demands that can come with being a full time student. “My boys learned quickly to help pick up more of the household responsibilities while I was studying or in class,” said Claire. “And my husband supported me fully. I think in the end, they were all proud of me and were happy to support me in any way that they could.”
Choosing a university and a degree plan that fits you is also important, and learning that you have a lot to offer your fellow students can also be a pleasant surprise. “Sometimes, as non-traditional students, we come equipped to share our experiences and wisdom in a way that helps,” Vicki said. “Having worked in the corporate world, retail, restaurants, and call centers, I was able to share my experiences of the job hunt through a presentation in my business writing class. I taught traditional students, some who had never had a job, about work environments, time management, the importance of networking, and how to avoid the stress that comes with it all. Having the opportunity to help from my own experiences was rewarding to me. In addition, it gave many of the traditional students some hope that the world isn’t as scary as the media makes it out to be.”
Thinking About Going Back to School?
- Calculate your costs and determine your sources for funding the degree.
- Assess how much time the degree will take to complete, and how it will affect your home life.
- Measure your return on investment. Will the degree allow you opportunities for advancement in your current career, or will you be following a passion and starting a new career? If you take on student loans, how long will it take you to pay them back?
- Finally, determine your risk. Make a list of pros and cons. How much risk you are willing to take? Measure what’s right for you. Then go for it!
By Susan Ishmael