Tips for Going Back to College in Your 30s
Tips for Going Back to College in Your 30s
Jan 13, 2022

It's never too late to think about going back to college. Higher education is not just for twenty-somethings. Whether you started college and left or never went at all, with a degree, you can open more doors in your career. Though the process mirrors what high school students go through to get into college, you have some special considerations as an adult. Here are some of the best tips for getting back to school at 30 — full-time or part-time.

Table of Contents

Reasons to Go Back to School

Unless you are clear in why you want to go to college, you may not find enough motivation to follow through. Not all these reasons will apply to you, but you'll likely identify with at least some of them if you've already been considering how to go back to college in your 30s.

1. You Want a Different Career

By 2020, just 36% of jobs available will require only a high school diploma. The rest will ask that you have at least some college credits, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree. To tap into the other 64% of jobs that require higher education, you may want to enroll in college.

Going to school will give you the credentials and training needed to access new career paths. Whether you want to take classes at a technical school, learn a trade or go to a traditional four-year university to get a bachelor's degree, the extra education will serve as an investment in your future. 

A college degree will allow you to apply for jobs that require higher learning. With more job opportunities, you have the potential to make more money. You may also have more options in fields that interest you, so you can get a job that you truly enjoy. 

Because many colleges require some courses as core, you can use those to explore certain subjects before declaring your major. For example, if you're thinking about becoming a doctor, take biology and chemistry as your core science courses. If you hate the coursework and material, medicine may not be the best career option for you, but you'll still have earned the credits your school required for science courses.

2. You Want a Promotion at Your Current Job

Just as some jobs require a college degree, the same may be true of leadership positions at your current place of work. If you keep getting passed over for promotions because you don't have a college degree, consider enrolling in courses. Though it will take time to get your degree, you'll still show your employer that you're willing to put in the extra work.

When you have a clear goal in mind, you can be more specific with the classes you take. You may need only a few classes instead of a full degree. Check with your human resources manager for any specific academic requirements you lack before registering for classes.

3. You Want to Finish Your Schooling

Not everyone who starts college in their 20s finishes. Unexpected things happen. You may have needed some time off, wanted to move, started a new job or had a family. It's not too late to complete your degree to give yourself more opportunities in the workplace.


Research information on entering college as a returning student. You may need to contact your former school for transcripts and test scores to transfer.

If you have credits from when you started college, ask the school where you want to enroll if any of them can transfer. The good news is that you may be able to get some credit for your previous coursework, but some classes, such as those in sciences and technology, may not be viable after 10 to 20 years. However, you may still get elective credit for these classes, and some schools will credit your work experience.

4. You have Education Benefits From Work

If your work offers to pay for part or all of your education and you feel ready for college, take advantage of it. Not every business shows their appreciation of worker education by paying for it. If you can get compensation for your schooling, you'll need less financial aid to make your college dream possible. Be sure to ask your HR department about any specifics concerning the program.

5. You Finally Feel Ready for Higher Education

Everyone develops differently, and by the time you reach your 30s, you may finally feel ready to take on the responsibilities of college. Some people use their 20s to explore themselves and the world. When the wanderlust fades, you may find that you have developed the desire needed to stick with college coursework.
By the time your 30s arrive, you may consider settling down in your life to a long-term job, moving in with a significant other, starting a family or going back to school. Maybe you haven't thought about college until now. As long as you have enough motivation to do the coursework and take time to attend classes, you can get through college at any age.

Find the Right School

When looking into schools to apply to, you'll want to find the right one. Most people in their 30s have settled into a life in their current town, so it can be more difficult for you to go out of state for school. Instead, you may prefer a local school or choose online learning.

Local schools will require you to attend classes in person regularly. You may also need to visit the campus to talk to your professors during their office hours. If you have to work during the day, look for colleges that offer night school classes, which will allow you to still work toward a degree without giving up your job. Just remember to give yourself enough time to study in addition to attending classes.

Online classes may be completely virtual or require you to visit campus for exams. Check the requirements and evaluate yourself to determine whether you have the drive to attend online classes in your spare time. Some people find the motivation to attend classes that do not have a set schedule difficult. Others prefer the freedom to take classes on their own time, such as after their kids go to sleep or before work in the morning. 

For every hour of class you have, online or in-person, you'll need three hours for studying. For example, for a three-hour class, you should spend nine hours studying. If you have a full-time job of 40 hours a week, plan to take three to five credit hours. For 30 hours of work, you can take three to nine credit hours. If you work part-time, up to 20 hours a week, you could take six to twelve credit hours. Lastly, working fewer than 20 hours gives you enough time to take between 12 and 18 hours a semester.

Don't feel tempted to overextend yourself by taking too many credit hours. If you do, you may burn out and lose your desire to finish your degree. Give yourself time and space in your schedule for working, studying and attending classes.

Look Into Financial Aid

College is expensive no matter when you attend, but when you go back to college in your 30s, you may have a better appreciation for the cost. Even if you didn't need help paying for college 10 or 20 years ago, the cost has increased dramatically since the year 2000.

For example, in the 2000 to 2001 school year, college cost an average of $10,820 per year. By the 2016 to 2017 school year, the price had dramatically increased to an average of $23,091. The costs of public four-year schools cost more than community colleges, and private colleges were more expensive than public ones. 

To cover the costs of education, you should start by filling out a FAFSA form. Also known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA form is the first step you must take if you want any type of federal financial aid. You will not have to undergo a credit check or pay a fee to apply. After applying, you will get a student aid report (SAR) that your school will use to determine the type of aid package you can get. You'll be able to negotiate whether you want to accept all, part or none of the package.

In addition to federal aid, you can seek scholarships and loans. Scholarships are awards that you don't have to pay back. Read the instructions when applying — some may require you to maintain a specific grade point average (GPA) or pursue a certain major. Student loans you'll have to pay back, but rates tend to be lower than for credit card loans, which is why student loans are preferable to putting your college career onto a charge account.

You're never too old to apply for financial aid. Doing so when you return to college is a smart move that you'll feel grateful for in the future when your bills come in.

Create a Plan

Just as you should do with every major change in your life, think about the process and make a plan before you dive in. Having a clear plan in mind will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and make it easier to avoid forgetting anything important.

1. Know What You Want

Be clear about your reasons for wanting to go to college. Yes, it will be challenging, and unless you're firm in your resolve to finish your classes and degree, you may find the process too daunting. Go through some of the common reasons for going to college as an older adult. See if you identify with any of them. If not, use them as inspiration to delve into your own reasons for going to college.

Also, determine if you only need to take a few classes or want to get a degree. These decisions will help you when you're choosing how to pay for college. 


2. Determine How You Will Pay for College 

When you're choosing college payment options, look into our work benefits and federal aid. Also, don't forget about loans and scholarships. Do not take out a mortgage on your home or use your retirement savings to pay for college. You have several other options available, and you don't have to risk your home or retirement to get your education. 

3. How Much Time Do You Have? 

Think about how much time you have to devote to your studies. If you work full-time, you won't also be able to take 12 credit hours each semester and hope to have study time too. Think realistically about your available time. If you have kids, what are your responsibilities for them during the school year?

Even only taking one or two classes a semester will still move you forward in earning your degree. Also, do not discount taking classes over the shorter summer or holiday semesters that some schools have.

4. How Will You Study? 

The time you have available to study is only one part of the puzzle of how you will study. Are you able to go somewhere else to study, such as a library or coffee shop? Do you need a separate room in the house to close the door on distractions? Can you work well at the kitchen table instead? Will a single desk give you enough space for going over your notes and textbooks? Or do you need a large table to spread your materials out on? Answering these questions will help you set up a study area that works best for your lifestyle and study preferences.

Studying in your 30s will be a different experience from the one you had in high school or college. Consider setting a scheduled time each week to devote to your studying. Ask your friends and family members to not disturb you during this time. Set a reminder on your phone to keep yourself from forgetting the appointment you have with your schoolwork.

5. Know When to Ask for Help

Also, don't be afraid to ask questions about everything. You are not the only person going back to school in your 30s. If you have a question, feel free to ask your school's transfer or enrollment office.

Find help from your fellow students and professors to get assistance with coursework. Also, know where you can turn if you need support on your homework so that you don't fall behind. For instance, you can check out 24HourAnswers as your source for private tutoring sessions and homework help when you need it — at any time of the day or night.

Once You Get Into College, Stay Successful With Homework Help

We understand the challenges of going back to school in your 30s. Your schedule becomes frantic, and you may find that the only time for studying is late at night or early in the morning. Don't worry if you need a tutor at these hours. At 24HourAnswers, we offer online tutoring, homework help and more 24 hours of the day. We're ready at times that are convenient for you. Simply submit your homework question online, and let us know when you have time for tutoring.

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