Most people in the United States have at least an elementary education, but strive for some measure of higher education, whether it’s directly after high school or some time thereafter. A college degree is often a ticket to a better salary and often a better life for many — in 2013, Americans who had a degree from a four-year college made 98% more per hour (on average) than their peers who lacked a degree. Certainly, college costs money, but over a lifetime, the earnings you can make from a job that requires a college degree are often much higher than a job that requires only a high school diploma. If you’re an adult student returning to college — or going to college — for the first time after receiving an elementary education and higher, let’s talk about what you need to keep in mind.
What are the Advantages to Earning a College Degree?
With a college degree, you’ll have access to higher-paying jobs. A 2012 Pew Research Report found that employees who had a minimum of a bachelor’s degree made on average, around $45,500 a year, compared to those who only had some college education (who made an average of $30,000) and those with just a high-school diploma (who made only $28,000). And almost 85% of those who have attended college says that getting their degree has paid off. Studies also show that not going to college will wind up costing you around a half a million dollars (when you look at the average amount of additional earnings you could make).
A college education for many people is also the expected norm for many places in the United States. You may find that your social status increases with a college education and that society may take you more seriously, for better or for worse, than compared to just having an elementary education or high school diploma.
College also exposes you to a large pool of people, many of whom may have different cultural, social, or religious beliefs from you. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know others from across the country and broaden your horizons.
What Should I Look For In a College as a Non-Traditional Student?
If you’re supporting a family while you plan to attend school, you’ll probably want to look for a college or university that offers evening or weekend classes — or one that perhaps offers online classes. That can help minimize the costs of any childcare and will allow you to keep whatever full-time or part-time job you hold currently, so you can fund your education, along with the daily costs of living.
Some colleges and universities that cater to non-traditional students may even offer childcare services through the institution (such as daycare) while parents are in school. Transportation is also another factor when choosing a school. If you live in an urban area and rely on public transportation, making sure that there’s adequate transportation (that runs at all hours) near or on the campus is crucial. If you drive in, where are the parking lots located? Is it easy to park and walk to your class?
And, of course, looking at scholarships and financial aid is crucial. Supporting a family can be tough when you’re doing double duty as a student, and you don’t want to add another financial burden while getting your education, if at all possible. Targeting an institution that’s known for their good financial aid or scholarships can help.
What Kind of Degree Can I Pursue?
Whether you’re interested in an elementary education degree, a master of business administration degree, or a degree in communications, the world is your oyster. Pursue what you’re most interested in and chase your dream. Anything is possible with the right kind of education and the determination to learn.
Look for colleges or universities that make it possible to return to school and finish your degree. That college degree can open so many doors for you — perhaps ones you’ve never even dreamed of.