Going Back to School at 40

Attending college can be a scary thought. College for the first time or even the second time at 40 can be even scarier. Some people return to school because they want to get a better paying job. Others want to change their career path.

It’s never too late to return to the classroom.

There are many students who aren’t what would be considered traditional. Students over 40 have different hurdles than those who are in their teens and twenties. More and more older students are in the classrooms.


  • Older students bring wisdom and knowledge into the classroom.
  • They have goals and are devoted to the completion of those goals.
  • They’re motivated, which can make them a role model for other students.
  • Some employers will help with education expenses.
  • The freedom of college isn’t distracting for older students like it is for younger ones.


  • Bills still have to be paid while older students are in school.
  • Students over 40 have to balance college and raising children.
  • They have a spouse and burdens that can’t be put aside while attending college.
  • There might not seem to be enough hours in the day for attending college and other duties.

Researching and Planning

1) Figure Out Your Goals.

Students who want to make more money and change careers should take the right classes. That means they’ll have to be in the right program in college.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an Occupational Outlook Handbook available online. It will help you choose a career as well as the degree you’ll need. You can sort jobs by average pay. You can also sort by number of new jobs in the future or entry-level education.

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2) Who is Paying for Your Education?

Sometimes, your current employer might have a tuition program. It’s a program to help its employees continue their education. There are often strict guidelines for the employees. They might include repaying the tuition if the employee leaves the company. Usually have to stay a certain period of time. The human resources department can answer any questions you may have about the tuition program offered.

3) Are Scholarships Available?

It might be surprising to learn that there are scholarships and financial aid available for older students. Financial aid is available for students who meet certain guidelines like a low household income.

There is a free application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA that can be filled out to find out if you’re eligible. You’ll need your tax returns to fill out the paperwork.

What to Expect at 40

Walking into class for the first time, you will probably be self-conscious. You’ll notice that most of the students are half your age. As you settle in, you’ll care less about the other students. You’ll be focused more on what you’re hoping to accomplish.

Often, other students are respectful anyway. The teachers will be happy to have a student who is dedicated to their schoolwork too. The first steps are hard, but college gets easier in time.

1) Studying.

Other students won’t understand the burdens you have. It’s hard to divide your time. You might not be able to join study groups with your peers. You’ll have to study around a work schedule or a child’s afterschool sports.

Still, you will have to carve out the time you need to devote to study, or you can’t hope to pass your classes. You just won’t be able to join other students when they’re ready to study.

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2) Time Management.

It’s hard to balance school, children and their activities, a job and a family.

Time management will be the key to your success. You’ll need to learn to manage your time. People who don’t manage their time well don’t turn in their homework. That will bring down their grades. It’ll make college much harder too.

Make sure to choose homework over leisure time as often as possible. Taking breaks to enjoy your children and spouse are important too. It’s vital to take some down time and rest your brain.

3) Networking.

Network with business people in the field where you want to work. Do this while you’re a student. Don’t wait until you graduate.

You can play the student card to meet with employers in that industry for informal interviews. Change your LinkedIn profile to include the name of your school and connect with alumni too. Delete Facebook from your schedule. You should be making friends and writing to people on LinkedIn.

Don’t wait until you’re ready to graduate to gain these friends. They’ll be helpful in the future.

4) School Life.

If you’re attending school on campus, take some time to attend college events.

Adults might not want to party with people half their age. There’s more to do on campus than party. There are other events like plays, concerts or sports you can attend.

When you’re going to college, you want to experience all that it has to offer. You might not be able to juggle everything, though. Make it a point to attend one event per month and bring the family to bond with them too.

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5) Internship.

You’ll want to get a sense of the job through an internship program. Don’t wait until the end of your degree program to start.

There’s a race for the internship spots, so start early to ensure that you’re chosen. Many employers will bring in new employees from the interns they’ve seen a few years in a row. Try to intern over the summer months for a few years. You’ll gain the lead over others.

The employer might not choose you for an open position. That will still give you a job on your resume. You can use that once you start interviewing.

Final Word

Many colleges are trying to ensure that non-traditional students have access to all they need to attend school. They understand the struggles older students have to balance work, school and family life.

Often, colleges will give students the choice of a hybrid education. This is where some of their classes might be available online and some on campus.

There are a few drawbacks for college students over 40. There are more benefits to attending school, though. Your age shouldn’t be one of those drawbacks.