Skip to main content

Getting a Degree | Going Back to College at or after 40!

American Association of Community Colleges January 2009

American Association of Community Colleges January 2009

College for Adults

Earn a degree! But I'm over forty!That was the advice given to me when i found myself unemployed and in need of a career change.

Are you kidding? Get a degree?I am an older adult who thought school was a thing of the past. I got married at a very early age (just out of high school). Getting a college degree was something I longed for, yet thought was a missed opportunity. Thirty five years ago, my situation was more common than not.

While many of my classmates finished high school and went on to college...most would only go as far as earning an associates degree. The ambitious ones may have gone on to earn a bachelors degree...and only the real scholars would continue to seek a Master's degree or a P.H.D. Now that has all changed.

College for Adults today

According to one Canadian study, "The number of adults (defined here as 25-64)attending school full-time more than tripled between October 1976 and October 1996" (Gower). I am not alone in this situation. Many adults, especially baby boomers, who managed to make it through years past with minimal education are now faced with unexpected challenges. With growing economic concerns and fewer unskilled or mid-skilled jobs disappearing, the demand for higher education is growing.

So what does a fifty-something baby boomer do to earn a degree or improve skills needed to become more desirable to employers? I had more questions than answers when I first faced this dilemma.

Who has time to earn a degree and still work full time? What is the best way to find a job? How can i pay for a college education? These are some of the tough questions going through my mind. What I will offer here are different options for people like you and I who need to get help now.

Not all situations are alike- This is meant to be a guide for those who are in one of the following 4 categories:

  1. Employed but need to earn more (which often requires you to improve skills)
  2. Never went to college and are suddenly unemployed and having a difficult time finding a job (every one wants you to have a degree)
  3. Educated who find their degree or skill has lost value in the marketplace (can you say TV repairman?)
  4. You want to earn a degree...just because it was a lifetime goal, but you can't figure out how to do it and still work full time.

In my research I found the following options to higher education


  • Courses offered by employers
  • Seminars
  • Professional Trade Schools
  • Adult school classes
  • Certificate Programs (often through Community Colleges)
  • Vocational school
  • Online school degree
  • Distance Learning
  • Community College Degree programs
  • University Degree Programs
  • Accelerated College

One of the most overlooked and often least appreciated ways to gain skills comes from the company HR department. If you have never thought about this as a resource, think again. Some companies offer to pay your way to attend certificate programs or job seminars. Better still, your current employer may actually fund your college education! Some employers know the value of a good employee and are willing to invest in them. Check with your current employer to see if they offer any educational training, tuition reimbursement programs, or college grants. They may also be a good source for student loans, especially as money has gotten tighter in the lending industry- checking to see if your employer has access to student loans may be the answer for you.

Seminars- these are often hosted by private companies and organizations either for profit or as a non-profit. The classes and lessons are taught on very targeted subjects and are often designed to be completed in a weekend. Check with any professional associations to see what they can suggest for your specific area of interest. Avoid the educational seminars that make grand promises and charge huge fees to attend. Often these programs are less educational and more commercially driven. Look for ones that give you lots of take home lessons so that you can go back and reread at a slower pace.

Professional trade schools, Vocational Schools, Certificate Programs- these schools can be a great way to gain an education in a very specific job. These include the some of the following:

  • Dental hygienist
  • Mechanic
  • Airplane Mechanic
  • Hair stylist
  • Make up artist
  • Transcriber
  • Medical billing
  • Court Reporter
  • Private investigator
  • Data entry
  • Law enforcement
  • Firefighter
  • EMT
  • Commercial art

Often these programs can be found at your local community college. The cost to attend a community college is typically around $2000 a year. The yearly tuition for a university will start at around $6000 for a state school, and can be multiple times that for a private college. This makes a certificate program through a community college very attractive.

Online University, Distance Learning- are both growing in popularity with working adults as they afford a way to attend school and still maintain a job. One of the differences between the two is if there is a requirement to attend any classes on campus.

With distance learning, there may be a component- such as the mid-term or final- that requires you to attend a class somewhere. Distance learning is offered through local community colleges and universities. An online University differs in the fact that the entire education is done via internet. Online schools are a great way to get a degree in a shorter amount of time too. Often the programs are accelerated so that you can finish a degree in a shorter period of time. The online schools will typically have access to sources for tuition such as college loans and grants.

Scroll to Continue

Check with their financial aide office. Often by filling out a FAFSA- they can help you qualify for subsidized loans and government grants. Be aware though that if the school isn't accredited (and often less expensive tuition), they may not qualify for any government tuition programs.

University degree program- the most traditional form of education. This is the way to go if your main objective is to have the whole college experience (minus the frat parties and dorm life if you are over 30). It is here that you will sit in a class room setting with other students who will probably be in the same major as you for the next 4 to 10 years- depending on your course of study.

The traditional university program is probably the most time consuming way to earn a degree, but can also be one of the most enriching. The professors are typically the best in their field. They will have published works and proven track records for knowing their subject. The classroom setting also offers lively discussions that you may not encounter in a community college setting as those attending a university are often more interested in their chosen major. Whereas, in a community college, you will find students who are spending time just trying to discover what field they want to go into.

Accelerated college- this is the program I chose. It allowed me to get a bachelors degree in about half the time as the traditional school. The format is traditional teaching in a classroom setting, but meets only one night a week. The homework is often geared toward the working adult, but can still be very challenging to complete. It isn't an "easy way" out by any means! In fact, in someways it is harder due to the fast pace. The two greatest benefits i found were the small class sizes, and the quicker completion time. I chose an accredited program so that I could continue on to pursue a teaching credential which worked out well for my life at the time. (be wary of non-accredited schools).

If you have found that you are in a position that requires you to go back to school as an adult, don't worry- you are in good company. I hope that this brief overview of your choices can help you to decide which approach will work best for you. It can be an intimidating situation to find that you need to apply for college as an adult but the rewards can be greater than you can imagine! So if you are over forty and wondering if you can go back to school- the answer is "yes you can"!

Phoenix University may be a bad choice too- check out my fellow hubber ssaffery who wrote a very informative hub on it HERE


bayareagreatthing (author) from Bay Area California on October 09, 2010:

Caroline- that is awesome! Keep going- the time flies by fast! Online learning is wonderful especially for people with small children at home. Thanks for sharing your story and God bless you too!

CarolineVABC from Castaic on October 09, 2010:

Thank you, Laura at "BAGT," for sharing this very useful hub! It is very true that many adults (working or not) find themselves back into the classrooms where they intend to better themselves or just to "get ahead" professionally. I, for one, is still trying to finish my AA degree. I have taken many Early Childhood Education (ECE) courses for me to land a job in the Educational field. Now, that I am a preschool teacher, I still need to finish up my AA degree. I am so thankful for the online/distant learning-they have worked for me. I was able to go to school and still meet the demands of both family and work. These seem like a "God send" to most adults, and they are, except some things are lacking such as a spontaneous interaction with both professors and classmates, being able to ask questions right away and waiting for replies from teachers, to name a few. I am also currently enrolled in an accelerated program and what you've mentioned in your hub is true. Accelerated programs are more difficult than conventional courses due to the fact that the work is more intensive. So, one should be very disciplined when taking accelerated courses. Thank you very much for such a very insightful hub. Keep writing. God bless!:-)

lol on September 04, 2010:

I like this article as it is helpful to those looking for a degree but I find it a HUGE joke that a degree means so much in comparison to many of you have met a degree graduate that doesn't know much about the subject they studied....personally I have met hundreds of them and these are the ones that get offered the jobs over people that can do the job far better without that piece of paper...speaking from experience a degree/masters isn't worth 1/10th actual experience of the job....A degree at uni these days is 20% useful and 80% stocking filler with loads of pointless crap you will "Never" use to make up the 3-4 years.....Every degree course I have ever seen is the same.....if they tought people what they actually needed to do the subject well in the "real world" a full degree course would take 3-4 months max!

Uni's these days have turned into another profit hungry commercial business more interested in milking in the money than offering a good education.

Just my personal opinion but one based from many years of experience.

Hummingbird5356 on February 28, 2010:

This is a good hub. I also got my degree with the Open University well after I had left school. I worked full time all the time I studied. It is a lot of hard work but worth it in the end.

bayareagreatthing (author) from Bay Area California on October 31, 2009:

Thank you Stars- i appreciate you stopping by!

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on October 27, 2009:

nice article

bayareagreatthing (author) from Bay Area California on September 30, 2009:

DOB- Yes, I agree with you I think it has to do with that. I personally know several people in their 40s and 50s who are back in school in order to stay competitive. Even those with a degree because one from 30 years ago can be somewhat obsolete now as things have changed so much.Thank you DOD for your comments!

Duchess OBlunt on September 30, 2009:

I see this trend in the lives of those around me. I often wonder if it has anything to do with the aging demographics on North America? I loved this article, it's a more serious side to my own look at - your never too old to learn. Well done, well researched and well written

bayareagreatthing (author) from Bay Area California on September 16, 2009:

That is awesome! I get so frustrated that 25 years of experience isn't factored in!!! How lame is that. A degree is great, but coupled with experience, that is double great!

Annette Thomas from United States on September 16, 2009:

Looks like I'm one of these who got their degree after 40. I started school at age 34. It took me 13 years to finish my BAAS. I worked full-time and took 1 or 2 classes per semester. But finally! I did it! It was so hard....then I had to convince the mental health field that I was qualified to work in that area. I had been in sales/customer service over 25 years. When I applied for mental health positions, they would say, "Why don't you have and MH experience?" I would reply, "I was working on my degree most of that time. 25 years of human relations taught me how to read people. That speaks for itself!" And honey, let me tell you, during that time period I listened to more problems, comforted more broken hearted people, and solved/negotiated tons of problems. And finally someone believed me! YEHHHHH! Great article. You're never too old to start over.

Related Articles