(BPT) – Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. This age-old adage resonates for many whose personal or professional obligations delayed or rerouted their educational goals. The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to pause, take stock in your goals and make a plan for how you can achieve them, including going back to school to finish the education you started and finally earning that college degree.
College graduates earn approximately $ 17,500 more than adults without a degree, and they are more likely to be employed than their less-educated counterparts, according to the Pew Research Center. Despite these advantages, more than 31 million people started college in the last 20 years, but did not graduate. In fact, 4 million adults have completed at least two years of college, but have not earned a college degree or certificate.
Family or personal responsibilities and military service are just some of the reasons students “opt out” of their education. And the thought of going back to school can be overwhelming. Madeleine Slutsky, vice president of career and student services at DeVry University, has advice for those who want to return to school.
“Every college and university is unique. There is no ‘one size fits all’ institution,” she explains. “Those looking to go back to school must research options to identify which will help them achieve both their academic and career goals. Breaking the journey down into actionable steps will help the decision-making process.”
Slutsky offers some advice:
Begin by researching your field of interest. Use a resource like O-Net, which includes a career assessment tool to help students explore a range of career directions.
Researching schools can be daunting. Create a list of pros and cons of each to help narrow your search. Assess each institution’s degree programs, faculty, student organizations and flexible learning options to identify those that best align with your education and career objectives.
Seek school and career advice
Connect with friends, family members or acquaintances who are employed in your ideal career field. Their academic experiences will help you identify the qualities your ideal degree program possesses. Or use LinkedIn to expand your professional reach with those in the field you are considering.
Assess credit-transfer opportunities
Obtain official copies of your transcript and determine which credits qualify for transfer to your desired program. Complete the school’s evaluations and confirm its credit transfer policies with an academic advisor who can answer your questions and help you create an action plan.
Explore financial aid and scholarships
Colleges and universities offer an array of financial aid and scholarship options, some specifically for transfer students. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid online to determine what you qualify for. In addition, research and apply for scholarships. Map out financial assistance options, policies and deadlines and apply as early as possible. In addition to college and university resources, websites like scholarships.com and fastweb.com can aid in your search.
A college-educated workforce is in demand, and the value of a college degree continues to rise. For adults planning to complete their degree, there’s no time quite like the present.