Going Back to School: 5 Critical Questions to Consider

There are a few things to consider before going back to school.

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The decision to leave school or simply not attend in the first place is made for a multitude of different reasons. For some, it’s a lack of funds to continue their education. For others, it’s a lack of motivation or drive to finish. And for others still, it is the realization that what you’re studying isn’t what you want to do for the rest of your life. After the decision is made to leave school, you start working and living and all of a sudden you’ve been out of school for years. At some point, you may start thinking about going back to school. 

The decision to go back can be even more daunting and is also made for a multitude of different reasons. The decision could be brought on by the need to change careers. Or the need to advance in your current career field. Even the need to prove it to yourself and others that you can do it. No matter what the reasoning is, it can be a hard decision to make.

So just how do you decide that the time is right to go back to school?

Here are 5 critical questions to consider before making your decision.

1. Do you have enough time to devote to school?

Education takes a pretty serious time commitment.

You will need to devote 1-3 hour chunks of time to either being in class or listening to and watching lectures online. Outside of class time, you will have reading assignments, projects, and papers, all of which will take a solid amount of time to complete properly. The general rule is that for every credit hour of class, you can expect to devote 3 hours outside of class time to complete the work. For a 3 credit hour class, that is 9 extra hours a week on homework.

It can be very tempting to jump back into school full time, especially when you’re feeling fired up about getting back into it. But being realistic about the amount of time you can commit to school can keep you from getting overwhelmed. This is especially important if you will be continuing to work full time while you are in school.

2. Does it make sense, objectively?

Ask for a second opinion about your choice. Look to your friends or family for their thoughts or advice. Ultimately, it’s your choice to make, but getting an outside perspective can help you put aside your biases and make the best decision.

Having a strong support system is also imperative to going to back to school. Your already-full life is about to get even crazier and you’re going to need people to talk to and to be your cheerleaders when you’re stressed about your day job and also have to study for your lit final. By sharing your thoughts and feelings about going back to school, the people in your support system will be there to remind you why you’re doing this in the first place.

3. Is it a smart financial move?

It’s no secret that a college education can be pricey. If you’re already working with a tight budget, adding in the cost of a college class or two can add a solid amount of stress to your life.

Filing your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and having an honest conversation with your financial planner or a financial aid officer at your prospective college is a great way to be sure you’re making the right decision for you and your education.

Don’t just consider how much it will cost, but also consider how much it will gain you–what will be the return on your investment? In some cases, it may mean getting a higher-paying job, in other cases, it may be critical to change careers but might not pay for itself until later down the road. Consider both the financial investment and return.

4. Are your expectations realistic?

Look at your expectations for what you will get out of returning to school. Are you considering returning to school so that you can advance or change your career? Will this degree or program help you get the results you want?

Having a clear plan for where you want to end up after graduation will help you to decide if it’s the right time and choose the right program.

Along with that, be sure that your expectations of what you’ll be walking into are correct. Are online courses right for you, or do you need a traditional education setting?

Online schools and classes offer an amazing amount of flexibility when it comes to scheduling, but you lose out on face-to-face interaction. Think about the ways that you are most productive and be realistic about what will work best for you.

If you have great time management skills, online coursework may be the way to go. But if you have trouble making time for everything in your daily life, the commitment of having to be in class at a specific time and place may be more beneficial.

5. Why do you want to go back to school–really?

Going back to school takes some extra work. Apart from working outside of school, you’ve already got an adult life and quite possibly a family that most traditional students don’t have to worry about. You may also need to relearn how to be a student. So, make sure that you are going back for you–not for anyone else. This will help to ensure that you have the motivation to finish.

Deciding to go back to school is a HUGE step. It takes courage and a willingness to make sacrifices in order to get your degree. Just by considering it, you’ve taken the first step. Congratulations! Sometimes, the first step is the hardest.

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