The dilemma: Deciding whether to return to college

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Left to right: 38-year-old construction management freshman Sergio Becerril, 24-year-old psychology junior Jesus Sanchez and 33-year-old journalism and English senior Sara Samora all returned to school after entering the workforce. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

Robin Sharma — Canadian lawyer, leadership expert and celebrated writer — is known best for saying, “All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.”

The decision to return to school after working full time and earning hefty pay is one of the toughest a professional might make. Sometimes individuals have receded from the educational lifestyle due to work, military service, lack of drive or family obligations.

However, there is no need to worry, as the number of older students is quickly increasing. The Huffington Post reported that between 2000 and 2012, there was a 34 percent increase in enrollment for people under the age of 25 and a 42 percent increase for individuals 25 and older.

Taking a step toward higher education after a long break is scary, but it’s important to remember you’re not alone.

The first step to make the most out of this comeback is to choose the correct field of studies. One’s previous work experience could be in a field one may not like much, so choosing to study something that is interesting can possibly be career-changing and is a rewarding process in itself.

Alternatively, specializing in one’s own field is an option and can boost a professional’s career.

Choosing the field in which to study is not the hard part. What’s difficult is the actual process of going back to studying. Civil engineering graduate student Anubhay Tandom, who started his master’s degree program after working for seven years in his field, said that it was a struggle to get back in the rhythm of college life in the beginning.

“It was actually very tough for me to sit and study for long hours in the library during my first semester here. I was unnerved by the freshers who were still in the habit of studying and taking exams,” Tandom said. “But with regular practice, I could see that my inputs to the class brought a new dimension to every discussion, because I had seen the practical application of all the theories that were being taught. That still motivates me.”

Another aspect of returning to studies is finance. After earning income for a long time, working professionals may be in the habit of spending lavishly as the job guarantees financial security, but once back in student mode, the responsibility of juggling between studies, managing finances and possibly a family teaches one a lot about life.

One must learn to utilize resources well and plan meticulously for the future. This is when one’s money earned from working in the field will come in handy.

The important thing to remember is that this financial situation is bound to change, as a higher degree backed up with relevant work experience makes a professional more employable compared to students with no prior work experience.

In the meantime, there are financial aid opportunities that are specifically intended for people 30 years of age and older.  There are websites such as FastWeb or scholarships.com that offer scholarships based on requirements such as age, gender and location, according to a 2009 Forbes article.

Managing a variety of coworkers, resolving differences, working towards a common goal, building teams and dividing responsibilities are all traits exhibited when professionals come back for studies. The freshmen in the class also benefit when they observe such traits and learn from them.

One’s will to continue studying is tested at every step of this process. The shocked expressions of disbelief that I received from my coworkers after announcing that, after working full-time with the world’s largest grassroots refinery for six years, I was going back to finish my master’s degree made me wonder if I was taking the right step.

However, these moments of reflection made me realize what I actually wanted from life, and these mental debates fuel the determination to succeed.

In a nutshell, the journey toward a higher degree, or even a bachelor’s degree, after a hiatus will awaken a younger and enthusiastic side of your persona and the process of discovering your new self will increase your confidence like never before.

Opinion columnist Divya Dhiman is an environmental engineering graduate student and may be reached at [email protected].

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