By Jason Zigmont
Most adults start with the question of WIIFM (what’s in it for me) when thinking about going to college, and it is a good place to start. I would love to see people go to school just to learn and grow, but that is not practical, and there needs to be a return on your investment (both time and money). In this piece, I am not going to argue you should (or shouldn’t) go back to college, as that is up to you, but instead I will share with you a series of questions and thoughts for you to ponder in making your decision.
- Why are you even thinking about going back to college?
- What is your ‘experience’ with college?
- What do you want to get out of going to college?
- What can going to college get you?
- What are your barriers to learning?
- What is supporting your learning?
Why are you even thinking about going back to college?
What started you back on the path? Are you ‘missing something’, looking to prove something or just because you enjoy education? Each will set up a different set of motivations. Are you going because YOU want to or because SOMEONE ELSE wants you to? You are much more likely to succeed if you have an internal motivation (as compared to being forced or convinced to go back). What goal will going back to college help you achieve? Keeping that goal front and center will keep you focused and motivated.
What is your ‘experience’ with college?
Have you previously gone to college or is this your first time? Your previous experiences (either in college or high school) will ‘cloud’ your current experiences. Keep in mind that you were in a different place in life previously, and college has changed. Additionally, if you have previous experience with college, your goal should be to apply as many previous credits as possible to your new degree.
What do you want to get out of going to college?
College (at all levels) represents a commitment to improvement. Are you going back to get a ‘piece of paper’ or to learn something new? There is a place for both, but realize that your intent is different for each. If it is about the piece of paper or just to have a degree to hang on the wall, then there are methods to move quicker through the process (possibly at the risk of learning less). If you are looking to gain new skills, the key is to focus on those courses that will help you most and test out of those that are just ‘checking’ a box.
What can going to college get you?
No matter why you are going to college, having a degree is going to help you get ahead in the future. Having a bachelor’s degree has become a minimum for most jobs. Identify something that you want in the future (be it job, new place, etc.) and keep that as a focus. Having a positive outlook (or light at the end of the tunnel) will help you to get over your barriers.
What are your barriers to learning?
Everyone has barriers to learning, the most common ones being time and money. Time comes from juggling family, work, and education. The key to getting over the time barrier is to set up a habit and protected time (i.e. 1 hour every night). When you ‘cram’ things into a tight time frame (such as studying for an extended time the night before) many adults find not only that this doesn’t work, but that they feel ‘guilty’ for the time away from their family. If time is your largest barrier, think about choosing a program that is more flexible (such as online courses often are).
Money is a barrier for most, so it becomes a game of trying to get the most out of the money you do have. There are scholarships and other programs to help; all you have to do is apply. You would be amazed how many scholarships get no (or very limited) applications. Additionally, you should look at schools with an low overall cost (i.e. low cost per credit). Your best bet is usually a state school where the in-state cost is low. Keep an eye open for programs that accept CLEP/DANTES credits as they allow you to save both money and time (as little as $125 for 6 credits).
What is supporting your learning?
For every barrier, we have a support. Know what your support system is before you start. It may be your family, friends or community, but there are those who will help you. Just about everyone hits a hard part in their school and needs a hand. Don’t go it alone, find support before you start.
Having an academic (or life) coach can help. I am happy to help you. Jason Zigmont, http://www.jasonzigmont.com