Why Going Back to School at 40 or Older Can Make Sense?

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Going back to school at 40

There are many reasons to go back to school, regardless of age. Maybe you’re tired of your job and want to try something new. Or maybe you feel there are additional skills you need to advance in your current career.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics conducted a study showing that baby boomers held an average of 12.4 jobs from the age of 18 to 54. And more recent generations change jobs at an even greater speed. Millenials expect to change jobs every three years.

If that’s the case, many people will need to go back to school at some point for some type of training.

But some might think they’re simply too old, especially if the goal is to change careers completely.

So is going back to school at 40 or after a good idea?

The answer to that will be different for everyone, but the short answer is it’s a great idea if it will positively impact your life.

In today’s world, people are working until much later in life. Some people are even opting never to retire. That means even if you go back to school in your 50’s, you still may have decades to build and enjoy a new career.

There are also plenty of careers to find in your 40’s that have high job satisfaction levels. So let’s explore some of the reasons you might consider a career change and heading back to school in your 40’s or after.

Table of Contents

Why Go Back to School

1. Don’t like what you’re doing

A decent number of Americans are satisfied with their job, according to a Pew Research Center study.  But a large number (30%) were doing their job “just to get them by.”

If you’re someone who goes to work just for the paycheck, maybe it’s time to consider a career change. Going back to school to find something you’re more passionate about could positively impact your quality of life.

We can all agree that money is important. Many people in their 40’s and 50’’s are supporting families. That, plus many years of experience in a particular field, can make it difficult to move on. No doubt, it’s a difficult decision, but if you have the financial flexibility, it may be worth returning to school.

There’s nothing like waking up every morning and going to a job you actually enjoy!

Related: I Don’t Know What To Do With My Life

2. Improve earnings potential

Maybe you’re happy with your job, but your upward mobility has stalled. Certain degree levels are practically required in some careers to take the next step. For instance, many business management roles are filled with people holding Master’s degrees or more.

It might not make sense all the time, but that’s just the way the world works. If you want that next promotion, you may need to consider upgrading your degree. So if you love what you do but cannot move up the food change, consider going back to college even if you’re a little older.

3. Never got a degree

If you haven’t received a post-secondary education and are entering the job market, you should consider it. Of course, there are high-paying jobs for people with little to no schooling, but it’s much rarer. You can greatly increase your earnings, and you don’t need to spend tons of time in school.

Many careers in the medical field, law enforcement, the trades, and many more only require limited coursework.

Take nursing, for instance, which is a hot job these days with huge demand. You can take the path of a traditional bachelor’s degree to become a registered nurse. But you can also become a registered nurse with an associate’s degree or ADN in just 2 years.

Then you have other options like becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse that only requires a certificate to be earned, which takes even less time.

If you find yourself in this position, do some career exploration to find degrees you can get quickly that can land you great jobs.

4. Can’t get a job

If you have a degree and experience but are in a declining profession, maybe it’s time to change careers. This can happen through no fault of our own, especially in the high-tech world we live in today.

Jobs and companies can go from a boom to a bust in just a few years. New technology can upend an entire industry in no time, and you might find yourself going back to school so you can get another job.

This exact problem occurred as manufacturing jobs in America were replaced by technology or moved overseas. Entire towns were wiped out when manufacturers shut down plants across the country. 

Some people struggle to adjust to such adverse events. But going back to school, even if you’re over 40 can greatly increase the odds of finding another fulfilling job.

Related: Best Recession-Proof Jobs

5. Fulfillment

Speaking of fulfillment, that’s another great reason to get back into school. Maybe you don’t hate your job, but it’s just somewhat… blah! We’ve all been there, but sometimes a job never changes. And many times, people don’t think they deserve or can get anything better.

Here’s a little pep talk. That’s simply not true. No matter how old you are, if your 40, 50, or 60, there’s always the opportunity to find something more fulfilling.

6. Help people

Along the lines of fulfillment, helping people fits right in. So many times, people spend their careers focused only on making money. If you’re tired of the endless pursuit of the dollar and just want to do something good for others, the opportunities are plentiful. A career helping children, the sick, elderly, and poor are just a few good ideas.

The reality is we can never have enough people in jobs that are focused on helping those less fortunate. Because you have a little more experience, chances are you can be of benefit to these people.

7. You’ve been around the block

By the time we reach the age of 40, you’ve had many experiences, and chances are you have a much better understanding of yourself as it relates to your career. There’s no shame in deciding that you simply no longer have a passion for what you’re doing.

Going back to school can help you align with those realizations, so why not do it?

8. Turn a hobby into a career

Research shows that people who are content with their careers are more likely to live longer, healthier lives. It’s natural to want to have a career you enjoy and can be passionate about.

But if you find yourself in a job that feels like it is not the right fit for you, or worse yet, your soul-sucking day-to-day work doesn’t even seem worth it anymore, don’t give up! There may be an opportunity out there waiting for you.

Turning your hobby into your career could just provide what you were looking for all along.

Sometimes these pastimes can turn into a source of additional income, whether from selling handmade items setting up your own website, or even a blog about a hobby. Take a look at websites like Etsy that allow you to sell products more easily without even creating a website.

What are Barriers to Going Back to School at 40?

The most common barriers people face when returning to school are lack of time and money. At the age of 40 or older, you most likely have a lot of responsibilities outside of your job. It’s not easy going back to college and juggling those things at the same time.

No doubt, it won’t be easy, but here are a few ways to overcome the challenges of going back to school at 40 or older:

  • Look into part-time jobs –  consider moving to a part-time work scenario if it’s financially feasible. Taking a short-term decrease in pay for a long-term payout can make it worth going back to school.
  • Find work at your current employer – Maybe your current employer has jobs you’re more interested in, but don’t have the qualifications. Your employer may help pay for your schooling and facilitate your move to the new job.
  • Take night classes – This is a big commitment if you also have family and work obligations, but can be one of the best ways to get back to school and start a new career.
  • Find scholarships or student loans – It goes without saying that you should find any scholarships possible before resorting to loans. If do take out loans, look to federal student loans before considering any private loans.

Benefits of Going Back to School at 40

You’re More Mature

One of the biggest benefits of going back to college at 40 is that you’re more mature. You’ve likely gained a lot of life experience, and you’re probably more focused and motivated than you were when you were in your twenties. This can make it easier to focus on your studies and achieve your goals.

You’re More Experienced

Another advantage of being older is that you have more life experience. This can be helpful when it comes to studying certain subjects or completing group assignments.

You may also find that you’re better at time management and can balance your studies with other commitments more easily than you could when you were younger.

You’re More Financially Secure

One of the biggest concerns for anyone considering going back to school is the cost. But if you’re doing it later in life, you may be better financially than when you were younger.

You may have more savings or a higher-paying job that can help you cover the costs of tuition and other expenses.

You’re Less Likely to Drop Out

While there is no guarantee that you’ll complete your degree if you go back to school at 40, you’re less likely to drop out than if you were younger. 

This is because you’re more likely to have a job and other responsibilities that will keep you motivated to see your studies through to the end.

You’re More Likely to Succeed

In general, people who go back to school at 40 are more likely to succeed than those who start their studies younger. This is because they’re usually better prepared both academically and emotionally. 

They know what they want out of their education, and they’re more likely to stick with it until they achieve their goals.

If you’re considering going back to college, there are plenty of reasons to do it later in life. With the right planning and motivation, you can achieve great things!

What Schools to Consider?

Schools of all kinds are in play, but let’s assume most 40 or 50 years old’s would like to minimize school time. So it’s nice to find a path that won’t land you in school for an additional four years. Luckily that leaves a number of options to choose from.

Community College

Take a very long look at community colleges which tend to offer many of these programs. Hundreds of associate’s degrees and certificate programs are available at these schools.

Some of them also partner with local businesses to offer apprenticeships. An apprenticeship program is an excellent option for people who need a paycheck while working through classwork.

Trade and Career Schools

Some of the best degrees out there today can be achieved through trade and vocational schools.

If you can’t find a specialized program like cosmetology or culinary school at a community college, consider a private school offering them. Just be sure to understand the total cost. These schools can sometimes be pricey compared to your earnings potential after school.

Online Courses

Online courses are a great option for people who want to continue their education, but can’t afford the time or money of traditional universities.

Organizations like Coursera and edX are leading the way with both free and paid online courses to help improve access to education.

The best part about online courses? You don’t have to leave your desk. You can log in and work on your assignments at any time that’s convenient for you, whether it be in the middle of the night or during lunchtime at work. It doesn’t matter when you do them because they’re always due by midnight PST!

Since everything is self-paced, there’s no pressure to keep up with other students; if deadlines slip past without completing an assignment, no big deal! Just catch up and keep going.

You can opt to take standalone courses to brush up on a few skills or get a full-fledged online degree. Both offer great value and are typically much less expensive than a traditional school.

Technology Bootcamps

If you consider returning to school, technology and coding bootcamps should be one of your first stops. Bootcamps cover a wide range of topics, including web design, front-end development, cybersecurity, data science, UI/UX Design, and more.

This is an excellent way to learn the skills needed for a career in tech without having to go through traditional schooling or spend tens of thousands of dollars on tuition.

Bootcamp grads have gone on to work at companies like Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Some students even get hired by their Bootcamp provider after finishing the program!

A Bootcamp is a way to go if you’re looking for an alternative that will give you real-world experience with cutting-edge technologies while still providing access to mentors who can help guide your learning.

Popular Degree Programs When Going Back to School

As with the schools mentioned above, the degree programs people are interested in when going back to school at 40 often take less time. But that doesn’t mean there’s any shortage of opportunity.

You have a large number of degrees and certificates you can earn in a short period of time. Some of the most popular in this economy are found in the healthcare and technology sectors due to their enormous demand, and multiple job opportunities. Let’s look at a few of the most popular:


  • Nursing
  • Respiratory Therapy
  • Radiologic Technicians
  • EMT
  • Medical Assistants


  • Data Scientist
  • Software Developer
  • Cybersecurity Specialist
  • Mobile Developer
  • Information Security Analyst
  • IT Support Specialist

Paying for School

Being a little older, you might be better suited to pay for school. But lots of people have little to no savings, so paying for school at 40 might be even more challenging than at a younger age. Chances are you have more responsibilities and possibly a family to care for.

Regardless of your situation, the first thing to look at is whether a current employer will help. Many will chip in for the cost of going back to get an advanced degree. The kicker, however, is that they will most likely require you to stay with the company for a period after graduation.

If you don’t, you will likely owe the money back. That’s great for someone who’s going back to school for advancement opportunities but not for those looking to change careers entirely.

If you don’t have an employer to assist, you may need to pursue more traditional forms of financing. That can include Federal Aid, for which you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Keep in mind you may have issues getting assistance if you have any unpaid debts from past loans.

Once you’ve exhausted Federal Aid opportunities, you can look at Private Student Loans. Make sure you know what you’re signing up for when taking out private loans. They can be a good tool, but any loan can significantly erode your ROI if you end up paying too high an interest rate on a loan of any size.

Is it worth it?

There are many measures of whether it’s worth returning to school. You can go ahead and calculate a straight Return on Investment if the measure it’s purely financial. How much did you invest in the degree vs. how much additional money do you stand to earn. Don’t forget your opportunity cost in that equation if you stop earning money for a period of time.

But many people going back to school at 40 aren’t just worried about the money. They want to increase their job satisfaction. And in that respect, many people find that returning to school is worth it.

Maybe it gets you out of the office or running your own business. Or possibly into a career that has a greater social impact. These things aren’t just measured in dollars and can lead to a significant increase in job satisfaction.

The Bottom Line

Whether you plan to continue in the same career or make a drastic change, find a passion. By making the decision to go back to school, you have a huge opportunity. The large majority of people, even those who are not happy, will never get the chance. You want to look back in twenty years and say you had the last laugh.

The dream would be to continue working happily well after normal retirement years. We all know the occasional person who just keeps working, and if they ever stop it’s because the company eventually forces them out.

Try to find a job you’re so happy to do every day, that you’d love to continue doing well after seventy or eighty years old. If you achieve this, you’ve truly won the ultimate career game.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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