The thirst for knowledge doesn’t diminish with age. As long as you’re willing, you can further your academics or launch a career path at age 40 or even 60. Going back to college at 40 to pursue a college degree or certificate allows you to boost your professional credibility. It can help you request a salary increase or seek a career switch, to optimize your job satisfaction.
However, it also comes with consequences. Getting an advanced degree or a second bachelor’s degree as an adult student requires more financial obligations and committing to a structured class schedule and study time, which may be harder to achieve if you already have commitments. That’s why you should learn how to plan your college education if you’re 40 or more, and what your alternatives to college are.
Is 40 Too Old to Go Back to School?
No, 40 isn’t too old to go back to school. There is a wide range of careers you can pursue at 40. The best part is that you can apply your real-world experience to your college major. With the wide range of student services available to both younger and older students and advancements in education formats, navigating college or any higher institution is easier than ever.
You’re not alone. There are more 40-something-year-olds in colleges than you can imagine. According to the 2019 Postsecondary Students Enrolment data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 37 percent of full-time students in private for-profit schools and 26 percent of part-time students in public schools were age 40 and older.
Why You Should Go Back to School at 40
- It is a positive challenge. It’s an opportunity to discover who you can be while applying your life experience in a wide variety of fields. Continuing your education allows you to take advantage of a wide range of networking opportunities. It also keeps you mentally agile and might launch you onto an engaging career path you never imagined.
- An advanced degree or certificate can improve your current career. You can enroll in certificate or advanced degree programs to boost your professional leverage and industry expertise. Acquiring specialized knowledge through a master’s degree or a doctoral degree program can increase your value to your employer or clients.
- It can broaden your career opportunities. Today’s job market is filled with several growth opportunities. Advanced certificate and degree holders stand higher chances of seizing these opportunities and securing high-paying part-time or full-time jobs. A Bachelor’s Degree in Business, Computer Science, or Mathematics makes it easy to switch careers or pursue advanced knowledge in a wide range of fields. These disciplines are also suited to students in any age grade. At 40, you can begin your career in software engineering or business consulting.
- It can boost your salary potential. If you’re tired of earning slightly above minimum wage or you want a future career that offers more financial security and work-life balance, going back to school may be the solution. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can earn a median weekly salary of $1,305 with a bachelor’s degree, and up to $1,893 with a doctoral or professional degree. That’s a major step up from earning $800 with a high school diploma, based on the report.
- It’s easier than ever. You can define your learning environment by simply choosing between onsite and online degree programs. There is also a wide variety of adult student support, career development programs, and affordable degree programs you can choose from, without having to worry about incurring student debt. Federal aid programs were also designed for adult students. With adequate financial planning, getting a quality education is absolutely within your reach, regardless of your background.
- It’s a second chance to fulfill your academic goals and career ambitions. With the advancements in education, you can take online courses or attend a coding bootcamp, depending on your dream. You shouldn’t have to suffer low self-esteem just because you missed an opportunity to achieve your educational goals or professional goals.
How to Go Back to College at 40
Navigating the college application and enrollment process can be completely overwhelming, even at a younger age. That’s why we want to help make the process a little easier for you. Below, you’ll find a step-by-step guide on how to make going back to school at 40 an epic adventure with as little hassle as possible.
1. Decide what you want to study
Defining a career path will help you pick an academic interest. If you’re confused about what to study but are sure you want to go to college, you can still apply. Most universities and colleges don’t make it a requirement for applicants to specify their college major. Hopefully, once you’re enrolled, you can take a variety of diverse courses to help you decide the right fit.
2. Decide where you want to study
Start by making a list of schools that’ll optimize your student experience and those that have institutional recognition for your preferred college program. For instance, if you want to study mechanical engineering, start by reviewing schools like the Georgia Institute of Technology or the University of California, Berkeley, both of which are top schools for ME majors.
3. Decide what learning format and length is ideal for you
You can attend college the traditional way, on campus, or through a distance education program. You should also decide the time frame for your college education. Accelerated bachelor’s degree programs are an option instead of a four-year degree program. You could also decide to enroll in an associate program, as they offer career development programs.
4. Consider your college financing options
Don’t wait until you’re enrolled before deciding how to pay for college. If you want to avoid student loans, you can opt for a community college instead of a university. Some other ways you could pay for college include relying on personal savings, federal grants, personal student loans, scholarships, employer sponsorships, or work-study.
5. Start sending out college applications
Decide how many schools you can afford to apply to since they usually require an application fee. Luckily, there’s an easier way to do it. Standardized test services like ACT and College Board help college students boost their application test scores. You can also use college admissions services such as PrepScholar to improve your chances of success.
Alternatives to College for 40-year-olds
Attending college isn’t the only way to gain the specialized knowledge you need to pursue your dream career. As an adult student, you can choose between several learning platforms, the one most suited to your personal life or family life. Our list of alternative educational institutions will help simplify the decision-making.
Attending a coding bootcamp is an excellent alternative to a college degree. Coding bootcamps are immersive short-term training programs that aid students in acquiring the technical and soft skills they need for a wide range of digital and coding careers. These programs provide both theoretical and hands-on learning experiences to students.
Pros of Coding Bootcamps
- They offer flexible programs. Coding bootcamps make it easy for students to blend into their rigorous programs. You can access market-led curriculums in both full-time and part-time programs. You can also choose to attend an in-person or online program.
- They offer diverse payment options. You don’t have to worry much about finding financing options for your education. If you choose to attend a coding program, you’ll be guided through a wide range of payment options, including scholarships, loan financing, GI Bills, and employer sponsorships.
- They offer student support and career services. The wide variety of services offered is one of the major reasons coding bootcamps are so attractive. Not only will you receive admission and course mentorships, but you will also receive job placement assistance, portfolio and resume reviews, interview training, and networking opportunities.
Cons of Coding Bootcamps
- They are not accredited. The major downside to coding bootcamps is the absence of accreditations from a US accrediting body. However, this has no bearing on the quality of education at these institutions. Coding bootcamps provide students with industry experts and the opportunity to engage in real-world applications.
- They are cost-sensitive. Even with access to a wide range of financing options, you would spend more than a few dollars to get your certificate. Most coding bootcamps cost between $5,000 and $20,000. If you’re nervous about taking on more financial obligations, start with a free or low-cost bootcamp prep course.
- They have limited course options. Most of the courses offered at coding bootcamps are tech-related. If you’re a non-technical student, you might find it hard to blend in with a bootcamp, because of the emphasis on technology and hands-on learning. Traditional college courses are not available at coding bootcamps.
Online courses are standalone or multiple lessons on a particular topic or field. They are offered to students regardless of educational background or previous work experience. These training lessons can only be accessed online and are based on open enrollments meaning students don’t go through a strict application process. Most courses come with a certificate of completion.
Pros of Online Courses
- They are affordable. If you’re looking to acquire a new skill, an online course might be the way to go. These courses don’t require huge financial commitments. With as little as $13, you can purchase an online course or opt for free MOOC courses.
- They can be accessed from anywhere. You don’t need to be at a physical location to enroll in or attend online classes. Online education trends have made it easier for students to access simple and complex programs from the comfort of their homes.
- Students have more autonomy. With an online course, you can define your learning pace. There are no strict class-time or schedules. You can schedule your classes to suit your work habits or personal obligations.
Cons of Online Courses
- They lack structure. The absence of a structured class system often limits student interests. Students have to rely on pre-recorded videos instead of committing to real-time classes. This can reduce the student’s motivation since they don’t have to keep to any strict deadlines.
- Limited student support. Aside from customer support, there is no access to personalized feedback and mentorships. As a result, students have only examination scores to rely on to evaluate their learning progress.
- No career planning assistance. Online courses don’t come with job guarantees or placement services. There is no form of individualized career coaching or real-world training for students. After completing a course, you have to navigate the job market on your own.
An apprenticeship is a paid on-the-job training program that prepares candidates for technical careers in defined trades or professions. You can secure apprenticeship opportunities with business owners and companies across a wide range of industries, including finance, engineering, construction, information technology, and manufacturing.
Pros of Apprenticeships
- It’s an opportunity to gain professional experience. Apprenticeships place a high value on hands-on training. As an apprentice, you learn by seeing and doing. Classroom training, although present, is limited to the bare minimum. Rather, it’s a chance to gain personalized mentorships from industry experts.
- It does not require any capital investment. You don’t have to pay to learn technical skills; rather, you get paid a minimum wage to learn or improve your skills. This is an ideal option for low-income students, as some of these programs offer associate program training.
- No age restrictions. Whether you are 16 or 40 years old, you can complete an apprenticeship. The enrollment requirements for apprenticeships are more easily attainable than other forms of education. As long as you’re motivated and available to be trained, you can get started.
Cons of Apprenticeships
- Low industry leverage. Apprentices are usually seen as low-level workers. They don’t have the level of industry recognition that college graduates or bootcamp graduates have. As a result, securing promotions and advancements in their field is harder.
- Low wages and salaries. As an apprentice, you get paid the minimum wage of your employer’s state, which may fall between $8 and $15. According to ZipRecruiter, trade apprentices earn an average annual salary of $43,446 in the United States.
- Limited career opportunities. You can only pursue careers in the field you received training in. You’ll find it hard to apply your knowledge to other career paths without going for advanced training, which means you’ll be limited in your career pursuits.
Should You Go Back to School at 40?
Yes, you should go back to school at 40, or even 50, if you wish. It’s never too late to achieve your career goals or rediscover your purpose. With flexible degree program options and career services at your disposal, you can achieve your education goals. If you do so through a coding bootcamp, you stand a higher chance of optimizing your career satisfaction.
Going Back to College at 40 FAQ
Yes, going back to college at 40 is worth it since you’ll be returning with a gained set of soft skills, useful practical experience, and a better world outlook. You can launch several careers at 40 and build the productive life you’ve always dreamed of. Your education doesn’t have to stop if you don’t want it to.
Yes, you can go back to college at 40 if you want to. Learning is a continuous process, and there are no age restrictions. As long as you can comprehend the curriculum and navigate college life, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go back to school. Just ensure you’ve reviewed your financial situation before making your decisions.
You can go back to college at 40 by first reviewing your reasons for wanting to go back. A clear statement of purpose will make it easier to achieve your goals. You should also conduct preliminary market research to see what’s obtainable in today’s industry. If you want detailed steps on how to get back to college at 40, reread this article.
Yes, it is. Whether it’s at 40, 45, or 50, improving your knowledge and competence is always a good investment. Continuing your education can be an excellent passive activity. You can try out new career paths with the knowledge you’ve gotten. You can even build wealth with your newly gained knowledge; the opportunities available are limitless.
About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.