“I don’t know what I want to do. I might just go back to school to figure things out.”
This might be the worst idea ever. Never go back to college for another 4 years just because you’re not happy with your current job or because you don’t know what you want to do next with your life. You won’t figure anything out by spending more money on college.
I promote the idea of investing in yourself religiously. However, more formal education isn’t always the best investment. In today’s article I’m going to help you decide if you should be heading back to college for more education in your 20s or 30s…
Do you even need an education in your 20s or 30s?
This is a highly debated topic.
No, you don’t need an education to find a decent job. You don’t really need to do anything. To make money or to be “successful” you don’t have to spend many years in college. There’s not one definitive blueprint to becoming successful in your life. There’s not even a clear definition of being successful in your 20s or 30s.
I’ve met successful people who could never handle a classroom. I’ve also met folks who were heavily educated and couldn’t find work. On the flip side, a specific college degree can help you land a job that pays well a field that you enjoy.
This article is for those who completed some form of studies at some point and are now thinking about going back to college.
[Full disclosure. I started this blog as a 20-year-old student. I went to college because I was the oldest sibling and my parents wanted me to go. I didn’t know any better. College was the natural move after high school. I didn’t put much thought on this decision at the time. I’m not 100% pro-college. I’m also not against it. I believe that there are many ways to become successful.]
When does college make sense?
There are the two best case scenarios where spending money on school makes sense as a young adult:
- You don’t know what you want to do exactly, but you can graduate with a reasonable amount of debt or no debt.
- You know exactly what you want to do and you need college for it.
Scenario #1 is where most of us will land. We want to either go away to college for the experience or we’re just not ready yet to go to work yet. We also shouldn’t expect teenagers to be ready for the workforce.
In scenario #2, you know what job you want and you know how to get there. You can’t become a Nurse or Dentist or Accountant by just applying online for a job or by taking a course suggested by an influencer. You have to take the required courses, study, and then pass all of the required tests. This stringent testing makes sense because you don’t want some random person working on your teeth.
Should you go back to college?
It’s very tempting to go back to school in your 20s or your 30s. You realize that work can be very boring and you’re disenchanted with how life’s going. You don’t like your job and you fondly reminisce on your college days where life was much simpler.
You expected to be running a company by now and to be living in a mansion. Instead you’re riding the subway to work and listening to boring stories from your lame co-workers. When the weekend comes around, you’re either too tired to do anything wild or too broke to do anything fun. You have nobody to call for drinks on a Thursday night either. You just want to return to how things were back in college or you want to switch life paths.
When should you go back to college?
There are only three scenarios that make going back to school a good idea:
- You want to switch fields.
- You need college to upgrade your skills.
- Your employer will pay for everything.
Anything else and you’re just wasting time. Someone has to be the bad guy here by giving you a dose of reality.
Don’t go running back to school just because your job sucks or because you’re fed up with working.
Some interesting stats on college debt…
According to this WSJ article, this generation is in trouble (duh!).
“The average class of 2015 graduate with student-loan debt will have to pay back a little more than $35,000.”
How will you be able to pay off $35k of debt if you can’t find a job? How will you start saving up for that home or wedding if you owe so much money? How will you even think about that first trip that you so badly want to go on?
Is college all about investing in yourself?
There’s a big difference between investing in yourself and going back to school.
You should always be investing in yourself. You just don’t have to spend thousands on a tuition to do this.
Returning to college might sometimes be the worst investment. Especially if you don’t get a specific outcome out of this. I don’t want to be too results oriented, but when you’re 26, you can’t afford to be spending another 2-4 years in college. This won’t help you move ahead. You’re going to miss out on many opportunities to make money.
If the program doesn’t help you increase your income, then you’re wasting your time. If you want to hide from reality, you don’t have to go back to college. If you’re in debt already then you really don’t need to be going back to college. You should be focused on this debt.
How can you invest in yourself?
The whole point of this article is let you know that there are other options out there. You don’t have to do what your parents want you to do. You don’t have to go to college if you don’t know what you want to do. You can read up more on investing in yourself. You can take advantage of technology like Airbnb to make more money. You have other choices.
Let’s see what the experts had to say about going back to college…
Should you go back to college in your 20s or 30s if you’re not satisfied with your life?
“Maybe more important than a formal program is just keeping up with changes in your industry and keeping your ‘skills’ fresh. Best example is learning how computers and the internet have changed different jobs and roles. How many people have been locked out of the job market because they’re still an analog worker in a digital age? Doesn’t matter if your in your 20s or 50s, absolutely have to keep learning.” — Joseph Hogue of Work From Home Blog.
Amen. Never fall behind in your field if you want to stay relevant.
“Generally, no, but it depends on what you want to do. Too many young people go back to school because they don’t know what to do next. If you’re going to be a lawyer, you’ll obviously need law school. If you’re a teacher, you make more money with a master’s degree. But if you’re a writer, journalist, communications executive, etc., having a higher degree or more degrees doesn’t affect your compensation at all. If you want more education and your employer will pay for it, that’s a good opportunity to go back to school.” — Teresa Mears of Living on the Cheap.
Never turn down a free education. If your employer is willing to pay for it, then do it.
“I graduated from college with the intent that I would be done with school forever! Then I saw the job opportunities out there. Womp womp. True, it was in late 2001, when the tech crash had rippled its way through a lot of the job market, but still. After 2 1/2 years managing an inbound call center–and wanting to slit my wrists nearly every day–I took the LSAT, did great on it, and went back to law school. No regrets. I wouldn’t go back to school simply as a means to pass the time if you’re just unhappy in your job, but if there’s a distinct purpose and a specific goal, I say go for it. I was also much “fresher” in law school because of the 2 1/2 year break in between. My undergrad GPA was crap because I was burned out, but my law school GPA was WAY better because I was able to really appreciate school again.” — Amy Howse of YETInvesting.
Going back to become a lawyer is a wise move because there’s always a demand for work in this field.
“I did! I had always intended to get my bachelors then life always got in the way so I stopped with my AA. Then, I applied for a manager position and was denied because I didn’t have a bachelors, despite have 12 years experience at the time. It was a blow to my self-esteem and I decided to go back ASAP. I know I could have looked elsewhere but in my field you need that. So at 29 I went back and now I’m graduating with my Bachelors. I don’t regret it one bit. I got to travel to Israel, study interesting subjects and had a pleasant experience despite working full-time while attending school full-time.” — Athena Lent of Money Smart Latina.
That’s a cool story. If you want to make more money, you’re going to have to upgrade your skills.
“I got my first (and likely only) university degree at age 52. Better late than REALLY late.” — Donna Freedman.
Awesome. If you discover your true calling in life a bit later, that’s okay. As long as you don’t get caught up in program jumping.
” I don’t regret gong to grad school a couple years after finishing my bachelor. It can help if you know why you’re going and what you hope to accomplish.” — Miranda Marquit of Planting Money Seeds.
If you have a plan, then college can be beneficial.
“My husband is returning to school as a 31-year-old. It’s worth it for him; he used to be in the military and worked as a carpenter when he got out. He wants to be a manager now and make the big bucks, so he’s studying construction management. He’s got more hands-on experience than some of his professors. It’s kind of hilarious to me, but frustrating for him.” — Lindsay VanSomeren.
This is a reality of going back to college. You’ll be surprised by how much more experienced you are than some of your professors.
“I’m in the never-again category mainly because I have no idea what it could improve for me. I received my bachelor’s with honors in 2005 at age 22. My husband got his Bachelor’s at age 21 in 2004 and became a middle school science teacher. He went back for his Master’s in 2009-2010 at age 25-26 so he could be a school librarian instead. He ended up only doing that for 2 years before he started working from home with me in 2012. So, going back to college is great if you have a plan of attack but crappy if you are just wasting more money trying to find something you want to do…” — Crystal Stemberger of Budgeting In The Fun Stuff.
If you enjoy your work, there’s no need to spend money on upgrading your education just for the sake of it.
“College degrees of all kinds are only valuable in certain fields and even then only if you can find a cost-effective program that will help you truly earn more.
I suggest anyone in their late 20s looking at getting their bachelor’s or going back to school research salaries in their field heavily first. Then I suggest they audit or take an online course to see if what they want to study is engaging.
In other words-know your goals, be realistic about the cost and value, and most importantly be sure it’s something you’re truly passionate about.” — Kelly Whalen of The Centsible Life.
I love this idea. Spend the money on an online course. See if you’re ready to go back to school full-time on this topic.
“My boyfriend dropped out of college after freshman year and often talks about going back to get his degree. I’ve always found it bizarre because he already makes over six figures. I don’t think the degree would add any monetary value. Not to say that it wouldn’t add value in other ways, but I’m not sure it’s worth the price tag. — Stefanie O’Connell.
Another excellent case study of how you can make money without even graduating college in the first place.
“Depending on the motive and expected outcome, it could be a good idea. Some who return to school thinking getting another degree = automatic uptick in career and income will soon become disillusioned. If the expectation is personal and educational growth and it can be done without incurring debt, go for it!” — Alaya Linton.
I agree. If you can upgrade your credentials without any debt then it’s a wise move.
I share my ideas of how you can create your own graduate school program for yourself with the Studenomics MBA. You can also check out the great blogs mentioned in this article. You’re not alone.
Watch our video below on the topic of going back to school. Leave a comment on this post if you feel that you have a unique situation.
You have to do what’s best for you. College isn’t for everyone. You don’t need to add as many credentials to your name as possible to make money. With that being said, I don’t want you to stay at a job that you hate for another 30 years because you were too ashamed about returning to school.
Don’t hide behind college forever. You owe it to yourself to see what’s out there. On the flip side, be prepared to upgrade your skills if you want to make more money. I just want you to have a plan so that you don’t waste your time and money on school when you’re 28.