Traditionally, people think of college as being full of fresh-faced youngsters. But increasingly, middle-aged people are deciding to go back to school to further their career prospects. The reasons for this trend are numerous, but a primary motivation is a lack of fulfillment with one’s current career. Many older college students seek to realize dreams of pursuing an occupation more in line with their ideals rather, rather than working just for a paycheck.
Whatever your reason for wanting to return to college, it’s great to believe you don’t have to give up your dreams just because you’re older. But don’t let a resurgence of youthful exuberance and recklessness totally blind you to the need for some practicality. This is especially true if your circumstances require you to maintain full-time employment while getting an education.
Here are some things to consider before you do your best Rodney Dangerfield impersonation.
Consider Your Time and Money
Going back to college and getting a degree does not guarantee you a job afterwards. The level of competition for jobs these days is incredibly high, and your age could be a hindrance in some cases. Although you will have more job experience than the younger competition, companies are often looking for workers they can employ for less money.
Before you decide to spend a lot of money and time, see if you have any other options. There may be another route into the career that you want that might be cheaper and quicker. Consider how you could incorporate your passions into your current career.
If you are dead-set on college, you need to determine how to fund it. If you can’t pay for it yourself, you’ll have to consider tuition assistance. There are lots of options, from traditional loans to cash until payday loans.
Choosing the Right Program
Once you decide you’re headed back to school, you need to decide on a study program. One of your initial steps should be researching employment levels of different graduates. Check the rates of employment for graduates in your chosen field. If the numbers aren’t favorable, you need to think hard about the risk of potentially putting yourself in deeper debt for nothing.
If possible, speak with people that work in your target industry to get an idea of whether you will be successful or not. Some industries might favor younger graduates, including the tech and entertainment industries. On the flip side, fields like accounting and healthcare may actually prefer older employees.
Looking into alternatives to the standard four-year college is also worthwhile. Vocational programs or community colleges can offer similar qualifications but with sometimes significantly less cost. Some community colleges are part of the Plus 50 Initiative, which helps older people transition into a new career.
Educational programs that incorporate work experience is another avenue to explore. Hands-on job experience will put you ahead of the competition. You want to do everything you can to avoid the old dreaded cycle where you can’t get experience without a job, and you can’t get a job without experience.
Finding a Job After Graduation
Graduating from college is a huge achievement, but it usually only puts you on an even playing field with the thousands of people entering the workforce every year. You need to differentiate yourself. This is where touting your prior work experience can come in handy.
The good news is, you’ve probably already learned the value of “who you know” over “what you know.” Being a good communicator and networker is still an invaluable skill. If you need to brush up on your self-promotion abilities, consider joining Toastmasters, the speaking and leadership development organization.
Remember, everyone is in sales, even if you’re just good at selling your qualifications to others.
Also, do not wait until you’ve graduated before you start networking with people in your new field. Start making inroads and connections before you get that diploma. Consider joining trade associations as a good way to keep up with the latest developments in your new career. Going to conferences is also a great idea, to meet potential employers.
Don’t forget to consider your professors as network contacts and sources of advice. They will probably have at least some practical industry experience, and some might even be around your age! And stay in touch with your classmates. They may be lucky enough to find work before you. If they have connections, they could vouch for you and hopefully help you get work as well.
And don’t turn up your nose at investigating the career placement services your college may offer. Be sure to take every advantage you can!
Above all, remember to ignore the naysayers and let yourself truly believe it’s never too late to start a new career! No matter what your age, if you have a calling for a new path in your professional life, go for it!
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