Ask the Experts

Questions and Answers About Returning to College

Answered by Michael Brown, Community Engagement Specialist at Bac2College

There are over 1,100 four-year and graduate colleges and universities that offer programs covered by tuition assistance programs. Hundreds of these institutions offer quality methods for adults to earn credit for their work/life experiences. These opportunities provide significant time and cost savings for degree completion, and an immediate cost/value return on employer investment. Faith has also authored a guidebook, How To Earn A College Degree: When You Think You are Too Old, Too Busy, Too Broke, Too Scared (3rd edition available through B&N). This guidebook will help you make choices about your life’s direction and educational planning.

Question: I was a highway patrolman for 18 years, but had to retire about 10 years too early, due to an injury. My former employment was closely associated with the transportation industry, so I am quite familiar with trucking, rail, and intermodal transportation. I would like very much to gain employment in an operations/supervisory position, however most of these positions now require a bachelor’s degree in business or transportation, which I don’t have. I am looking at a good 3 plus years to obtain my degree. Is it too late for me? Would a future employer look at me as being too old? (I’m 44.) What would you suggest? – Jon

Answer: Jon, there are over 7.5 million adults going to college – you won’t be alone in your efforts to earn your college degree. It can be done. Research schools that will grant college credit for work/life experiences. This process is usually termed portfolio credit. There are hundreds of colleges/universities that award such credit to adult learners. There are testing programs and other options to evaluate your prior learning towards your degree. Usually graduation from a police academy also gives college credit. If all your background is used to its full potential, you may only need 1-2 years of actual college work to complete a bachelor’s degree in business. Finding the best-fit college for your needs is essential. – Faith

Question: Hi! I’m a 35 year old mother of three boys. One of my children was diagnosed with major (as in outrageously expensive) medical problems five years ago and I left college with only a few classes remaining for a B.A. in child development. My income has been limited to approximately $50,000.00 a year in order to qualify my child for state programs (I stopped working) to pay for the annual RX costs ($100,000.00+ year). In California, this income range barely meets living expenses- and I live in a cheaper area!

I’m seriously considering returning to college to pursue a new degree- a B.N. in nursing. I’ve actually registered at the community college for Fall to take some prereq’s now that the kids are all in school. I’ve determined that the original degree I was pursuing will not provide an income level satisfactory to my needs and I have a lot of lost time to make up for. I have approximately five years before my son’s medications will cease and then I can return to work. It will take me four full time years for the BSN degree. My question is, with four years of college already completed and $20,000.00 in loans still outstanding, would completing a new degree in nursing financially pay off in the long run? Will 40 years old be too old to expect a properous career? Thank you. – Shellie

Answer: Shellie, there is a high demand for nurses, so your age should not be as much a restriction, as with other professions, to find a job. You should be able to transfer many of your credits that you have already earned – especially as general education credits and general elective credits. You could start as an RN and then obtain employment with an organization that offers tuition assistance and complete your remaining courses for a BN degree using this employee benefit. I’d also get some career counseling and “testing” at your local community college to see if nursing is the right direction for you – not just an alternative. Also, talk to nurses and those organizations hiring nurses to ask if your age upon completing your degree will be an issue to obtaining a job in your new field of work. There are areas in the nursing profession that require “specialties” and pay higher salaries for those skills – operation room, ICU, pediatrics, and others. – Faith

Question: I am 39, live in California, and am currently out of work. Back in ’96 I was finishing my last year for my Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design but I had a family emergency. I was able to complete all but one class. Is there any way I can get my bachelor’s without having to start pretty much over again? – Veronica

Answer: Veronica, I would certainly hope that your prior college would be able to work with you to complete your degree at their institution. Hopefully the one course you need to complete your degree is still being offered, or if it is an elective course, you may be able to take it at another school and transfer it back to the school to complete your degree. You should contact the Registrar at your past school and try to work out an arrangement. This is a good example of the value to complete a degree when you are so close, even with life’s changes. – Faith

Question: I am 30, and graduated last year with my Associates Degree in Business. I wanted to go through nursing, then I thought of being an acupuncturist. As I got closer to graduation, I noticed, it would now take five years to become a nurse here in Albuquerque (NM), and if I wanted to go through the easy route, it would cost $40,000. (To become an acupuncturist it would cost $50,000.) I don’t want to have to worry about taking years and years of school. I am not sure what I want to get my bachelor’s degree in, can you please give me some suggestions? -Vanessa

Answer: Vanessa, get career counseling. The school where you received your associate degree should provide you with “Placement” services. This department helps graduates find jobs. Also, they have services for “Alumnis” in areas of career counseling – often free or at reasonable costs. It is so important to know your career goals so that you don’t spend years of study, and tuition, for degrees that will not advance your career goals. Ask to take some Career Assessment “tests” to determine your interest, values and skills as they relate to an appropriate career for you. Once you have your direction identified, you will have a better idea of any further education you may need. You may also find that you may want to use your degree in business to enter the job market and advance from there. – Faith

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