Top 5 tips for baby boomers returning to college

The recession is starting to turn around, but not fast enough for many job seekers. If you are a baby boomer and you find yourself out of work, you’ve pretty much got three options you can choose between. The first is retirement, but depending on your financial and emotional state this may not be an option at all. The second is to consider jobs that you are overqualified for, in which case you’ll probably face no small amount of ageism and a seriously salary cut. The third option is to head back to college for an additional degree. This will buy you some time when you can rely on financial aid, and hope that the job market turns around when you are done. Going back to college also allows you to add more skills and education to your already impressive resume, perhaps setting yourself up for a higher level position in your field or an entirely new career to inspire you in the next phase of life. Regardless of the reasoning it can be a fantastic choice. Just follow these top five tips for all boomers considering a return to college.

First of all, make sure you can explain the purpose of going back to school clearly, both to yourself and to others. You don’t want to make this decision without careful forethought. It’s just too expensive and takes too long. As with any major life decision the pros and cons must be measured. So don’t apply for schools until you can clearly define your priorities, and the purpose you are bringing to furthering your education.

Next, make sure you brush up on your time management skills. College in 2012 is nothing like what it was back when you went to school. Technology is a part of most classrooms, online learning allows for expanded workloads and interactivity and you’ll have more choices on the undergraduate and graduate levels than ever before. But you won’t just naturally adapt to the life and schedule of a student without a bit of work. You’ll need to schedule in your class time and your study time, while also managing your family life and everything else you have going on outside of school that most college-age students don’t have to contend with. Planning will be your best friend, so approach the process with as few distractions as possible.

Due to issues of time management, consider starting your return to college as a part-time student. Many boomers make the mistake of overloading their plate and end up failing classes, thereby wasting time and money. Start out with only one, two or three classes on your schedule so you can ease back into the rigors of lectures, studying and exams. You’ll do better, improve your confidence, and be more prepared when you ramp up your schedule the following semester.

You also shouldn’t go into school until you’ve made sure you have the resources you need to get by, and laid out complete plans for the life you’re leaving behind. While financial aid may cover your education, it won’t necessarily be enough for you and your family to live on. Make sure you have the financial ability to make this happen, and that you’ve built in a bit of a safety net in case school takes a little longer than usual. Budget in extra to fill in the gap of what you’re leaving behind, so your family has help with housework, caring for young children or older parents and anything else they previously relied on you to provide.

Finally, make sure you find allies on campus. You don’t want to wander around and just try to make your way without help. Head to the campus and talk to a counselor about what you will be facing. Run your plan by them and ask for suggestions to help insure success. Make an appointment to talk to your professors before class starts, and be honest about your concerns. Talk to other students who have gone through the same program, especially any other boomers you can find who attend your school. Tips and tricks by others who are immersed in the college environment are hugely important. You may look at that degree in public administration or MBA differently, and end up choosing a path that is more appropriate for your goals.


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Jenni Proctor

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