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How to have a career and go back to school

Returning to school while retaining a career is not for the faint of heart. But with some planning, perseverance and a strong support system, you can make your dreams a reality.

Woman in library

Consider your alternatives

Before enrolling in any program, it’s important for would-be students to put some serious thought into their career goals and what they hope to accomplish by obtaining a degree. A baccalaureate or graduate degree requires an enormous investment of time and money, and that investment can prove very difficult to make once you’re in the middle of a career. If you want an additional license or certification to advance within your field but aren’t so sure about committing to a degree, consider enrolling in continuing education classes rather than a full-blown college program.

Build your buy-in

Remember that no woman is an island. If you choose to move forward with a degree plan, your success will depend, at least to some degree, on the support of your family, friends and supervisors at work. Take some time to discuss the pros and cons with your family, and discuss your career aspirations with your supervisor. There’s a possibility you will need to rely on your support system for flex time or additional help at the house, so you’ll want to make sure they are fully behind you.

Secure your funding

The No. 1 reason that adult learners leave a degree program is because of financial concerns. But if a student leaves a program prior to graduating, they often leave with additional debt and no degree-related income boost. It’s no secret that college degrees are quite expensive, and the expense can feel extra painful if you have to scale back your income at work to balance your responsibilities. First, talk to your employer to determine if there are any programs available for tuition reimbursement. Many employers incentivize college degrees, because employers have a lot to gain from a well-educated workforce. If tuition reimbursement isn’t available through your workplace, make sure you have a plan for savings or student loans. Also, make sure that the anticipated income increase from a degree is more than the anticipated debt from the education.

Prepare your mind

Before you enroll, it’s important to know what you’re up against. Adult learners who are in the midst of their careers typically take many years to finish their degrees, and they’re also more likely to drop out of school prior to finishing their degrees (except for graduate degrees). This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t do it. Prepare yourself before enrolling, because it’s tough to maintain your career while going to school part time and balancing family and financial obligations, as well. This is all the more reason to build your social, workplace and financial support prior to taking an exciting leap of faith.

Find your program

Colleges and universities around the nation are beginning to cater to adult learners who are in the midst of their careers. This is great news, because it means that even traditional colleges are making education accessible through the availability of online courses. And the availability of online courses means that you’re not stuck with a local college that may not have exactly what you need in a degree. For example, Ashford University is an accredited university that offers both classroom and online courses for their degree plans.

To narrow your search, try to find an objective third-party review of online programs, and then speak closely with an admissions counselor to make sure that the college’s offered degree programs meet your goals. Also, make sure the college is accredited.

Tell us

How did you balance your career and school responsibilities? Share with us in the comment section below.

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