No one ever said college would be easy. Did you start your degree and then, for some reason or another, have to leave college before you were able to finish? Whether it was for financial reasons, family or medical issues, the need to relocate, or because it just wasn’t a right fit at the time, many Americans have had to leave school before completing their degrees. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about half of American adults have received some college education, while only a little over 27% have earned a degree. If you fall into the group of folks that left college before completing your education, you may be considering going back to finish it. Before making such a big decision, consider what going back to school will mean for you and all areas of your life.
One of the first things that is important for you to consider before returning to school is why you left in the first place. Was it a number of reasons? It could have been that you just couldn’t afford to continue. Maybe there were family or social factors that influenced your decision to leave. Perhaps you just didn’t enjoy what you were studying or found the college life too demanding or challenging. Only you can answer the question of why your degree was left unfinished. Be honest with yourself and explore the place you were in back then, and then assess where you are now. Are those issues still impacting your life today? If your circumstances haven’t changed, do you think you have matured enough to overcome them and succeed this time around? Or maybe the circumstances that made you leave school have changed, and your concerns about finishing with a second chance are non-existent. Just as you are the only one who can determine what went wrong the first time, you are the only one who can decide if it will be different now, however many years later. It can be difficult to face your own perceived shortcomings, such as an unfinished degree, but taking an honest look at what went wrong years ago is crucial to determining whether or not it’s a risk to return to school now.
One of the biggest reasons adult learners decide to go back to school is because the lack of a degree makes finding a job more difficult. In an age where the bachelor’s degree is referred to as “the new high school diploma,” not completing a college education can drastically hinder your ability to find the job you want or advance in your chosen field. Credentials are everything these days, and the fact that you didn’t finish your degree could be overshadowing how much intelligence and experience you do have. Depending on the field you work or wish to work in, you may not even be able to get in the door without a completed degree on your resume, let alone climb the ladder. Consider the industry you wish to work in, and do some research about minimum requirements for certain positions. Is a certain level of education required to move up and advance your career? What are your ultimate career goals, and what training or education do you need to achieve them? Are there occupations you can or would like try that don’t require you to complete your degree? Because finishing school is such a large time and financial commitment, you need to assess the outcome if you do decide to go back for it. If the only way to move up in your industry or to have a fulfilling, rewarding career demands that you complete a certain amount of higher education, then you probably have your answer.
Chances are, you’ve done a lot of changing, evolving, and maturing in the years since you left college after the first go. If you are considering going back to school to finish a degree you had to abandon in the past, think hard about how returning to the college life will affect your current life. Do you have a family? Do you work full time? Would you have to attend class at night or on weekends? Will you have time for the relationships you value most? Can I jump back into the habit of studying and homework and tests and essays? Take a look at the things that demand your time, focus, and money now and think hard about if classes will fit into your life. It will no doubt be a juggling act – are you a juggler? You’re the only person who can determine what you have room in your life for, and going back to a finished degree under the wrong conditions could leave you with the need or desire to quit this time around too. Real life is stressful, and so is the college life. It is important that you determine early how much you can handle and how badly you want to take another helping of demands on your plate.
The most important question of all that you need to ask yourself before deciding to return to school is why you want to go back. Are you being pressured by a spouse or family member? Does your career demand higher education? Do you have children or siblings for whom you want to set a certain example? Are you feeling unfulfilled in your work and want to create more opportunities for yourself? Are you ready to complete your degree now that your circumstances have changed? It could be very risky to return to college if you are being pressured by someone else and are not one hundred percent committed to the task. Higher education requires a great deal of time, money, energy, concentration, and sacrifice in many cases. If your reasons for returning to school are not your own, you may find that the commitment is too great to follow through with. On the other hand, if you are determined to better your life or career or your children’s lives with a degree that opens you up to better opportunities, the sacrifices may seem minimal. This will take some soul searching and honest thinking, but it’s a question that needs answering before returning to school to finish your degree.