There are many reasons to go back to school regardless of age. But some people might think certain ages are just too old. So is going back to school at 40 or after a good idea?
The answer to that is going to be different for everyone, but the short answer is it’s a great idea if it will have a positive impact on your life.
In today’s world, people are working until much later in life. Some people are even opting to never retire (or at least attempt to never 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 satisfaction levels. So let’s explore some of the reasons you might consider 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
This one is a no brainer, but there are so many people unhappy with their job it needs to be talked about. Are you someone who goes to work just for the paycheck? Maybe it’s time to consider going back to school and finding something you’re passionate about.
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 your while.
There’s nothing like waking up every morning and going to a job you actually enjoy!
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2. Improve earnings potential
Maybe you’re happy with your job, but your upward mobility has stalled. In some careers, certain degree levels are practically required 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 are unable to move up the food change, consider heading back to school 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. There are of course high paying jobs out there 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 course work. 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. Then you have other options like becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse that only requires a certificate to be earned which takes less than 2-years.
4. Can’t get a job
If you have a degree and experience, but find yourself 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.
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Speaking of fulfillment, that’s another great reason to get back into school. Maybe 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 just 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 have life experiences that can be beneficial to these people.
7. You’ve been around the block
By the time we reach the age of 40, we’re officially not old, but we’re also not young. Chances are you’ve seen a few things, and done a number of things in your career. That means you know more than you did 20 or 30 years ago. It’s amazing that we let people choose a career path at 20 years old and expect it to last until 65.
At this point, you may just have a better handle on what things you’ve enjoyed in the workplace. If going back to school can help you align with those realizations, why not do it.
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 multitude of options to choose from.
Some of the best degrees out there today can be achieved through trade and vocational schools. Take a very long look at community colleges which tend to offer many of these programs. Some of them also partner with local businesses to offer apprenticeships. An apprenticeship program is an excellent option for people that really need a paycheck while they work through classwork.
If you can’t find a specialized program like cosmetology or culinary school at a community college, then consider a private school that offers them. Just be sure to understand the total cost. These schools can sometimes be pricey compared to your earnings potential after school.
Paying for School
Being that you’re a little older, you might be better situated 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 they will most likely require you to stay with the company for a period of time after graduation. If you don’t then, you will owe the money back. That’s great for someone who’s going to back to school for advancement opportunities, but not for those looking to change careers.
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 have a good handle on 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 going back to school is worth it or not. 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 satisfaction. And in that respect, many people do find that going back 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 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.