All through your teens and twenties, you thought that once you arrived at the “big 30,” your life would all fall into place and you could just coast in your career. But now that the milestone has passed, you realize nothing is static about your career and you’ll need to scramble to stay ahead. Going back to school at 30 (or even 35 or 40) is a real possibility.
Today, you can never afford to stop learning. If you’re not moving forward in terms of amassing new skills, you’ll be left behind. Employers today seek continuous learning. More than ever before, today’s workers must anticipate what technological and societal disruptors could impact their jobs in the next few years, then proactively prepare for them. This usually comes down to further education, be it getting an MBA, taking additional seminars and classes, or obtaining new certifications.
To remain relevant in today’s workforce, you must get trained — and often retrained. But at least the effort will likely yield monetary rewards. Studies show that students with a college degree earned 57 percent more than those with only a high school degree. And those with a master’s degree or higher had 28 percent higher earnings than those with a bachelor’s degree.
The message? Keep learning!
1. Position Yourself for Your Future-Ready Career
Your skills need to improve at the speed of technology — which is lightning fast. To position yourself for the future, you’ll likely need advanced technical training that allows you to stay on top of new changes.
When setting out to go back to school as a working adult, look for programs that will arm you with the practical skills you’ll need.
Ask professionals in the field of your dreams what specific training is required. One way to meet these professionals is through LinkedIn, or start attending industry events.
Learn the industry’s standard requirements by reading job postings and noting the educational and technical qualifications. Make sure, too, that the industry is on an upward trajectory so that your effort will pay off. You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars, only to be told you’re now “overqualified.”
2. Learn the Lingo: Certificates, Certifications, and Degrees
But before you start those conversations, you may want to brush up on the lingo that defines today’s advanced education.
Figure out if you should pursue a certificate, a professional certification or a degree. A certificate is likely the easiest, lowest-cost option.
Certificates are generally awarded in non-degree granting programs. You take classes to bolster your knowledge on a particular subject. But make no mistake: adding this information to your resume will help you stand out. After all, you’re showing a commitment to lifelong learning!
By contrast, certifications qualify you to perform a particular job or task. Some technical and educational fields require professional certifications as a cost of entry.
Advanced degrees often require even more of a time commitment, but can help your earnings skyrocket. MBAs and MFAs are good examples.
An MBA (Masters of Business Administration) is often required if you plan on transferring to a financial field. An MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) allows writers to teach at accredited schools and colleges.
If you can’t see yourself leaving your job for a few years to pursue these degrees, investigate Executive MBAs and other low-residency options. Maybe there’s a way to accumulate credits toward your degree while you hold down your job.
3. Tell Yourself: It’s Never Too Late to Learn
While further training is one lure to send you back to school at 30 or beyond, you might also decide that it’s important to finish a degree that you started, but for various reasons put on hold.
This was the case with Shaquille O’Neal, or “Shaq” as he’s widely known. He embarked on his 19-year NBA career having completed only three years at Louisiana State University. But he later earned his Bachelor’s in general studies, and went on to earn an MBA and then a PhD in education.
Steven Spielberg was also compelled to finish a degree he hadn’t completed. He dropped out of California State University, Long Beach, just a few credits short of earning his degree. More than three decades later, he finished his requirements, which included submitting his film, “Schindler’s List,” to satisfy a film course requirement.
It’s possible that, by age 30, you’ve discovered the career direction you pursued in your 20s is to no longer a field in which you ultimately want to remain. This happened with Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett Packard and U.S. presidential candidate in 2016.
She enrolled in law school after earning a history and philosophy undergraduate degree from Stanford. But after one semester, she dropped out and found employment at a commercial property brokerage firm. Ultimately, she wanted to explore other areas of business and went back to earn an MBA. It landed her a job at AT&T, where she was promoted within two years to a management position. The company sponsored Fiorina in a fellowship program at the Sloan School of Management at MIT that set her on her trajectory to become CEO of HP.
Going back to school at 30 — or once adult life catches up with you — can prove challenging, especially if you’re juggling multiple obligations. For example, Mandy Ginsberg, CEO of Match Group North America, the parent company of Tinder and other online dating services, enrolled in one of the most challenging academic environments in the world as a single mother. The chaos of earning an MBA from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and raising a child at the same time proved doable by mobilizing a support team around her.
And therefore, it’s never too late to learn and change your life.
4. Find Your Balance
Whether you’re taking a few skill-based classes or aiming for a full degree, often the most difficult aspect of going back to school when you’re 30 and over is finding the time.
Not only do you have the demands of staying on top of course work, but you also may likely have to balance them with the demands of your day job — and perhaps even a spouse and kids.
If you plan to go back to school at 30 or beyond, make sure you know precisely what you want out of your degree.
Do your research before choosing a school or program. Look up the school’s program rankings and make note of the program’s graduation rate and what types of jobs its graduates land. Write yourself a goals chart, and tack it on a bulletin board above your home computer. Studies show that writing down your goals is the best way to achieve them.
And what about online options? Online programs may be your best choice in terms of convenience and targeted degree options. But they sometimes lack the cachet of the in-person study programs.
Before deciding to go the online route, make sure the school is reputable, accredited, and that students are offered the support they need. Look for reviews to give you a glimpse of student reactions to various programs.
If you can afford to take time off from your current job and return to campus, you may find it easier to foster new connections among professors and classmates who will hopefully all become an integral part of your business network.
As you investigate how to straddle the simultaneous demands of work and school, determine whether you can cut back to part-time work and go to school full-time. If so, you’ll finish your degree more quickly.
But, if you need to maintain a full-time job, find out in advance the minimum course load for enrollment. While part-time enrollment can make work more manageable, it may not allow you to be eligible for financial aid.
The Bottom Line
Ideally, your education should open doors to a career that will allow you to pay back any resulting student debt. Still, it’s important that you do the math to know whether it will pay in the long run to go back to school. Compare the cost of tuition and other fees with the revenue you’ll likely earn.
It’s a good idea to tell your coworkers and boss that you’re going back to school. This will show them that you have the drive to better yourself. When they know what you’re undertaking, they may be more understanding as you juggle your added responsibilities. Your employer might also be able to help out with paying some of the cost if the company has a tuition-reimbursement program.
Going back to school at 30 will show current and future employers that your brain is still active and your outlook is still expansive. At 30 — and beyond — there’s no reason not to pursue schooling that will pay dividends in the future.
More About Lifelong Learning
- 17 Best Careers Worth Going Back to School for at 40
- Going Back to School at 40 Helps Create a New Golden Age: Here’s How
- 15 Ways to Cultivate Lifelong Learning for a Sharper Brain
- 8 Ways to Continuously Achieve Personal Growth
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