Historically, there tends to be increased interest in returning to school during an economic downturn. Many laid-off workers may choose to complete a degree program, pursue a new course of study, or perhaps attain an advanced degree. Current students may choose to remain in school to further their studies while they wait out the current economic storm.
Choosing to return to school, regardless of the reason, is a big decision for adult learners and a practical way for some to help survive a recession. Continuing personal development is always a smart choice regardless of the economic environment since employers look for the most qualified candidates available to contribute to their organization.
Here we suggest some things to consider when planning a trip back to the classroom.
Knowledge is Power
Continuous learning, no matter how old you are, has clear benefits, from finding and keeping the job of your dreams, to making you more marketable to your current employer, or helping you feel more active and engaged during your later years.
Continuing education doesn’t just mean earning an MBA or a law degree. It can include:
- GED programs
- Bachelor’s or master’s programs
- Professional certification programs
- Personal development opportunities
Additional Training Helps Explain Gaps in Work History
If you have been laid off, returning to school can help to explain gaps in your employment history. It also shows that there is a genuine interest on your part to improve your knowledge base and become a better employee.
What Should I Study?
Some careers tend to be more “recession proof” than others, but it is most important to pursue a degree in a field that supports your area of interest and skill. No matter what degree you have, you will be most successful if you enjoy what you are doing. Every downturn is followed by an upturn. It makes sense to arm yourself with knowledge, but be wise and choose something that truly interests you.
Finding the Right School
Finding the right college or professional program is important. Shop around and consider a number of different possibilities. Your goal should be to find a school that is affordable, has a good reputation, offers programs appropriate to your needs, and is conveniently located to minimize your commute time.
Questions you should ask yourself include:
- What is the application processes?
- What programs are available?
- How many credits do I need to fulfill my requirements and what is the cost per credit?
- Can I transfer credits from previous course work?
- When and where are the required courses offered?
- Are there any programs and/or support services offered specifically for adult learners?
Continuing education is expensive and many students put plans on hold for financial reasons. A clear financial plan is necessary from beginning to end. Be sure to research any and all financial aid available to help you finance your academic endeavors. Also consider what programs your employer has in place. Many companies offer employees tuition reimbursement or interest free loans that benefit the company’s long term goal for more skilled employees.
Understand Where You Are Coming From
Adult learners have a different approach to learning. Malcolm Knowles, a pioneer in the study of adult learning, observed that adult learners:
- need to know why they need to learn something
- need to learn experientially
- approach learning as problem-solving
- learn best when the topic is of immediate value
Adult learning is truly “learning with a purpose”. Returning to the classroom is a way to navigate the path to a desired end result. Adult learners also bring with them a wealth of “real world” experience that they should eagerly share in the classroom.
Sharpen Study Skills and Maintain Focus
As a returning student, you may need a refresher on the best ways to study and maintain academic success. You will need to manage your time efficiently and effectively especially if you will be working full or part-time and pursuing your studies simultaneously. Things to consider:
- try to complete reading assignments and review notes daily — don’t fall behind
- find a quiet place to study and only study when you are alert, making sure to take breaks often
- take advantage of the resources available to you and ask for assistance when needed
Don’t Over Extend
Any continuing education program requires dedication and the will to succeed. Unfortunately, work and life experiences may present additional challenges, making it difficult to focus fully on your studies.
It is important to remember that your health needs to be your first priority. If you begin to feel stressed, tired or overwhelmed, you may need to cut some activities out of your schedule. It may also become necessary to assign more household tasks to family members. If you have children, ask friends or family members to help out so that you can carve out quiet time on a regular basis to dedicate to focused study.
Meet With an Academic Advisor
Once you are enrolled and attending classes, contact your school’s adult education or continuing education office to find out if you can speak to an advisor. An academic advisor is specially trained to help you stay focused on your academic path. They can also help to direct you toward helpful resources to help you manage this challenging undertaking.
Consider Volunteer Work
If after researching how to bankroll a return to school you determine that it just isn’t affordable right now, consider volunteering for community programs in your local area. You can offer to help out in areas of your current expertise and potentially learn new skills. This can also help you to expand your network, giving you increased professional exposure and potential leads for new career opportunities.
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