By the time you reach your 30s, the general societal expectation is that your career path will be reasonably well-established. You’ll (probably) have worked your way through entry-level jobs, will have decided on a future path within the same industry, and *essentially* you’re set for life.
Yet, despite this established norm, more and more people are finding that a single career, in a single niche, does not necessarily suit their requirements. For those struggling with this issue, the idea of a career change is tempting – but there is one, significant hitch: in order to change careers, they may have to obtain a college degree first, either for the first time, or to replace their existing degree.
If you have found yourself wanting to change your career, but have also paused at the idea of obtaining a college degree, you can find yourself stuck, wondering if doing so would be the right choice. To help you make the right decision, below we’ve put together a list of pros and cons you may want to consider!
Pro: Re-entering education demonstrates initiative to prospective future employers
Some people worry that attending university in their 30s is a red flag for future employers in their new niche. They fear that they will be perceived as ‘flaky,’ or that the fact that they did not pursue that specific niche at the start of their career will be a black mark against them.
However, these concerns tend to be unfounded – and in fact, you deciding to switch careers and re-enter education can be an asset. After all, such a major change is difficult, therefore you would have already demonstrated that you genuinely do want to work in your new field – which should play very well with employers.
Con: College is Expensive
Unfortunately, it is impossible to mention the idea of attending a university without discussing arguably the biggest downside: you will have to fund your studies. While the program itself may be covered by a loan, grant, or scholarship, you will still need to fund your living expenses for the duration of your studies.
In order to do so, you will likely need to continue working, at least on a part-time basis. If you are looking to return to college in order to move on from your existing career, and is the main motivator in your decision to return to college, the idea of sticking it out in your current job may not be particularly welcome. However, it’s likely to be the most sensible choice for your finances. Alternatively, you could leave your day job and take on a part-time job or side hustle in order to cover your expenses, if you can make that work.
PRO: You’ll have an opportunity to switch careers to a (relatively) newfound passion
For most people, the decision regarding what they *think* they will do for the rest of their lives is made at the age of 18, which can be problematic. As people age, their passions and interests change, but their career remains fairly static, glued to choices they made 10, 20, or even 30 years ago. At 18, I wanted to be a journalist for a magazine in New York. Now, at age 30, I’m a freelance writer (okay, same idea), blogger/influencer, and nanny/tutor. Oh, and I also do consulting work for a small consulting company. Is it obvious I can’t choose one career path?! 😉
By attending college in your 30s, you essentially have the chance to start over and embrace a new passion. Perhaps the revamped Cosmos led to a fascination with astronomy and cosmology that is conducive to studying at Cornell; maybe the current focus on mental health and well-being has led you to consider psychiatry and want to learn from Cynthia Telles UCLA training programs; or perhaps you’ve come to realize you’re a natural born writer and thus arts-focused universities such at Northwestern could be the right choice. Whatever the subject, there’s sure to be a specialist program that can nurture your newfound interests. By pursuing these programs, you can begin the journey to a career that focuses on what matters to you as an adult, rather than being influenced by choices you made as a teenager.
Con: You may find it takes a while to adjust to a university schedule
Throughout your working life thus far, you have almost certainly become accustomed to a certain schedule. The rhythm of working life is comfortable and familiar; you’ve known what hours you will work, what you need to do while at work, and what time you’ll be home.
Attending college, however, will throw all of the above into chaos. You’ll have a new, very different, schedule to adapt to. While some elements of that schedule will be relatively comfortable – for example, swapping attending work every day for attending classes – others, such as working late into the night to finish an essay, will not be. As a result, you may find that the early months of your courses are extremely challenging.
The good news, however, is that you will adapt given time – it’s just important to be aware that the initial period may be something of a shock to the system.
Pro: You’ll be on the right path to a happier future
Finally, a truth that cannot be ignored: by choosing to obtain a new college degree, you’re setting yourself on the path to a better life in the future.
While attending college in your 30s and revamping your entire career is undoubtedly a risk, it’s a risk that you’ll stand to benefit from for the next 30 years. In the grand scheme of your career, being in your 30s means you’ve barely scratched the halfway point, given that the median age of retirement is 62 years old. Even if you’re 39 and won’t qualify in your new career for four years, you’re still looking at nearly two decades worth of work. Logic suggests that if you’re unhappy now, and hankering for a change, you’ll be even more unhappy in 5, 10, or 15 years.
Simply put: by working towards a new degree and career, you are all the more likely to enjoy the rest of your working life, which could easily span 20 more years.
Hopefully, the above pros and cons of attending college in your 30s will empower you to make a fully-informed decision as to whether such a choice is the right one for you. Good luck!!