Dear Expert: I'm 43 years old. I have my bachelor's degree (I earned it after completing my associate's degree) but I never got a master's degree. Is it too late for me? I'm pretty sure a master's degree would give my current career a real boost—it might even help me launch a new career. Still, I worry whether all of it—school, work, marriage, kids, social life—will be too much. You must speak with a lot of people in my situation; what do you tell them? —On the Fence
The thought of going back to school full-time or part-time as an older adult is undoubtedly intimidating. It’s likely that by now you have more in your life to manage (full-time job, career, family, mortgage, etc.) than you did as a college freshman—man, those were the days! However, whether you plan to continue along an established career path or a seasoned professional seeking a career change, know that it's never too late to advance your prospects through education.
Here are some questions that I asked myself before starting a degree program along with the answers I’ve found after I decided to just go for it.
There is no age limit on learning. As an older student, you will find that your years of real-world experience will be valued not only by your professors but your classmates as well. I’ve found that my younger classmates look to me as a leader and look forward to hearing my perspective. Some even ask for professional advice. Your life experience may also help you better manage your schoolwork.
Remember also that you will hardly be the only older student in your classes. Unlike if you were going back to undergraduate school, no one will hit you with a label like "nontraditional student" in your graduate program. You will not stand out because of your age.
Why the heck not? According to the Council for Graduate Schools, 22 percent of graduate students—that's more than one in five—is 40 years old or older. In fact, 8 percent are over 50; compared to them, you're just a kid! And according to a Georgetown University study, graduate degrees can result in significant boosts to your income. How much depends on your field of study: in the sciences, the income premium can range from 50 percent (geosciences) to 137 percent (healthcare). The report lists 120 fields in which a graduate degree results in an average income increase of 20 percent or more. Compounded over the rest of your working life, that's a hefty return on your investment. And not only will you earn more, but you'll also enjoy wider options as you scan the job market for your next opportunity.
You’ll find that adult learners come from a wide variety of professions, ages, and backgrounds. This diversity results in engaging class discussions and invaluable knowledge sharing (not to mention the networking opportunities).
Tell me about it—I still can’t figure out how to use the remote for our TV! Learning how to navigate the technology will be part of your orientation (especially if you decide to study online). Also, I found that my tech-savvy classmates are eager to provide me with “quick tips" and shortcuts to make things easier. Developing new skills is just one of the windfalls of returning to school.
It is. But you can do it and know you won’t be alone. With the help of my Student Success Coach, I’ve been able to break down coursework into manageable chunks. I have learned to be a student again; being an adult student has made it easier than it was last time around! I’ve also subscribed to a text-to-talk software that helps me get through the reading assignments much faster.
Many master's degree programs can be completed in one or two years. The sooner you start the sooner you’ll finish. Wouldn’t it be great at this time next year to be celebrating how much you’ve learned, grown and accomplished rather than wishing you got started? Besides, time is going to pass whether you go back to school or not. Once you get started, who knows where you'll stop? Once you've earned your master's degree, you'll be one step closer to a PhD (if you're so inclined)
If you're still on the fence about higher education, start by taking one class. Not only will you build your confidence and learn something new, you’ll also be starting your journey toward that degree and your dream job!
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Germyce Williams is an Enrollment Advisor at Noodle and is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Educational Leadership at Mills College. A former teacher, Germyce has over 20 years of experience working with students from grade school to college-age. She has a passion for helping students achieve their personal and professional goals by developing strategic action plans. In her free time, she enjoys traveling and entertaining.