Every fall, millions of students leave home and begin the next chapter of their lives at college. Many students successfully complete their degrees in four years, but a large percentage leave school before finishing as well. Some people have to leave due to personal circumstances — family responsibilities, finances or health — while others leave due to motivation or academic reasons. Regardless of the reasons, many people who fail to finish college later regret their decision and want to go back.
But how do you know when the time is right? Earning a college degree is a major investment of time and money, and unless you are prepared to give 100 percent and devote yourself to your studies, you may not be maximizing either. There are some signs, though, that it’s time to go back and finish the degree you started, whether it’s been a few semesters since you were in school or a few years.
You’ve Reached the Top of Your Career Ladder
While there’s a perception these days that you cannot land a job without a college degree, that’s not necessarily true. There are jobs — good jobs — that can be had without the benefit of a degree. The problem is that many of these jobs are at the lower levels of organizations, and it is often difficult to move up the career ladder without the proper credentials.
In fact, in some cases a company won’t even consider promoting existing employees into certain roles unless they meet minimum requirements, which include a college degree. If you feel that you are stagnating in your current job, and it’s your lack of education holding you back, it’s time to return to college and finish your degree.
You Have a Specific Goal in Mind
Even if you are happy with your current job, you may have a more ambitious goal in mind. Chances are that goal will require you to hold a college degree. If you find that your lack of a degree is holding you back from reaching your goals, or that you are never going to get where you want to go without it, it’s time to start seriously thinking about returning to school.
The College Degree Is the Only Thing Missing
Often, it’s difficult for people to return to school once they have started a family and gone to work. Childcare, bills and other responsibilities take precedence, leaving little time and money to devote to studies. If you have those factors under control, though — for example, your children are in school, and you can support your family on less income — it may finally be time to go back to college. You may still have to make some sacrifices, but they will be far less painful, especially when you consider what you have to gain.
You Have a Support System in Place
Young students going to college for the first time usually have a built-in support system. After all, there are usually at least a few hundred other people going through the same thing as you, and it’s easy to find people to study with, commiserate with and turn to for help. That doesn’t mean that everyone stays — dropout rates hover between 35-40 percent— but it does make college a little easier.
It’s a little more challenging for adults returning to school, and many find that the process is even harder when they don’t have a support system of family, friends and co-workers to back them up as they earn their degrees. If you have those people in your corner, then you’re in a much better position to pick up your studies again.
You Have Time to Devote to Your Studies
While having specific goals and a support system are vital to success as an adult student, so is having enough time to manage the commitment. Many returning students struggle with time management, as they juggle school, work, family and other responsibilities. In general, most courses require anywhere from 15–20 hours of work per week, including class time, reading and completing assignments; some require much less, while others require more. If you feel that you have adequate time to devote to giving your all to your studies, then go for it.
Deciding to return to school to finish your degree can be one of the most rewarding decisions that you will ever make. Carefully evaluate your position before you make any decisions to ensure that all of the pieces are in place, and that your second time around will be more successful and rewarding then the first.