Thinking About Going Back to School? Questions and Tips to Determine if You’re Ready!

By Dr. Cheryl Lane, PsyD

You may have thought that you were done with school for good when you took your last exam and received that final report card, whether it was high school, college or grad school.  But now some time has passed and you are rethinking your life plans.

With a tanking economy and increasing lack of job security, more and more adults are contemplating returning to school or already doing so.  For some, it may be to increase their marketability in the work force.  For others, it may be so sharpen their competitive edge within their current place of employment.  And yet others may simply return to finally learn a subject or skill in which they’ve always been interested.

Regardless of the reason, going back to school as an adult is a big step.  It requires sacrifice in terms of both time and money (unless your employer is footing the bill), and it isn’t the best choice for everyone.  That being said, if it is right for you, you will find that there are many great options for online courses and degrees.  This makes it much easier to work school into your busy schedule. 

So, how do you determine if going back to school is a wise decision for you to make?  How do you know if you’re ready, or if you have the motivation and discipline to add attending classes (whether in person or online) and studying regularly to your already busy life?  Following are seven important questions to ask yourself, in order to decide if you are a good candidate for going back to school. 

How motivated are you? 

As with any endeavor in life, before you make a commitment you need to determine if your level of motivation is sufficient to get you through the challenges of completing your goal. 

The higher your motivation, the more likely you are to push through those times when thoughts of quitting start invading your mind.

If motivation is a bit lacking, just imagine yourself and your family in a few years living a more secure lifestyle, no longer hanging on from paycheck to paycheck.  That's not only possible, but many people have already done it!  And companies are seeking to hire people who show initiative and have the skills that you are now studying to learn.

How important is this goal? 

Goals are great to have, and returning to school is certainly a lofty one.  But how important is it to you on a scale of 1 to 10?

If it’s on the low end of the scale, i.e., something you’d like to do, but not a burning desire, your chances of sticking with it are slim. However, there are ways to improve your ability to stick to goals.

Are you disciplined enough to set time aside to study?  

School requires a significant amount of discipline and focus.  There is almost always something more fun to do than study, so if you lack discipline in general, you may want to consider starting with taking just one class.  The sense of accomplishment you feel once you complete that may be just the boost you need to get back into school full swing, because sometimes what appears to be lack of discipline is really our own self-doubt gnawing away at our resolve to finish what we’ve started.

Are you ready to make the necessary sacrifices?  

School requires sacrifice.  You may need to work less, or quit your job altogether, which will mean less income coming in. Also, your free time will be impacted.  You will likely have to sacrifice some of your time with family, friends, hobbies, and other enjoyable activities.  Remember though, the sacrifice is temporary and the long term payoff, both financially and emotionally, will likely be well worth it!

Also, if you don’t think you can make the time commitment for a 2-year degree, you’ll be happy to know that there are lots of options for advancement, such as a certification course from community and online colleges.  Western Governors University (WGU) offers knowledge-based degrees based on your personal mastery of a subject - without classes!

Are you enthusiastic (and preferably passionate) about what you plan to study?  

You will have a far greater chance of success if you return to school enthusiastic and excited about whatever it is you are going to be learning.  If you aren’t, you will likely end up in a constant up hill battle.  Be sure to choose an online program or course of study which gets you excited. 

Do you give up easily?

It was during my junior year of college (after I’d already returned to school after a few years off) a mentor encouraged me to consider getting my doctorate.  He told me that the most important quality to succeed was persistence, and, in retrospect, he was absolutely right.  If you tend to give up easily, you may want to consider a short term program rather than pursuing a degree which will involve several more years of your life. 

Do you have good time management skills?  

Are you able to juggle multiple things (such as raising your family, working full time, and studying)? Unless you have the rare luxury of being able to focus on school and nothing else, you will likely need very good time management skills to add school to your already very busy life.  If managing your time is extremely difficult for you, you probably aren’t a good candidate for going back to school.  

Take some time to think through each of these questions.  You may even want to spend some time journaling your answers.  Talk these questions over with someone you trust as well, if needed.  Going back to school later in life is a huge step and not one to be taken lightly.  That being said, it can be a very positive, life-changing decision; not only financially but in terms of your own fulfillment and self-esteem!

Dr. Cheryl Lane has a doctorate in clinical psychology and 15 years of experience working in the mental health field.  She is currently developing a business and life coaching practice, to further inspire and motivate others to reach their true potential in life, and is also a contributor to DegreeAmerica. 

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