“I don’t know what I want to do. I might just go back to school for now to figure things out.”
I’ve heard this many times from readers who aren’t sure with what to do next in life. 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 to do. You won’t figure anything out by spending more money on college to attempt to find yourself.
Spending money on yourself is always the best investment. However, more formal education isn’t always the best investment. In today’s article I’m going to help you decide if you should go back to college for more education in your 20s or 30s…
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Do you even need a college 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 it make sense to go back to college?
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.
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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.
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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.
20 thoughts on “Should You Go Back to School in Your 20s or 30s? You’ll Know After Reading This”
I remember when I used to take the train into work and the regional schools had their inspirational “you need an MBA” ads plastered everywhere. Grad school is a total joke. Most people make the same amount of money they would have made without it unless it’s a technical job like medicine. If you’re doing something like law or animal science, you would have made more in a job that doesn’t even use what you learn in grad school. Going to get an extra degree might be great for your personal life or mind, but not for your pocketbook.
I agree. More education does help your personal life. The reality is that the numbers don’t always add up.
I’d go back to college in a second as long as it didn’t cost $20,000 or more each year. It’s just incredibly fun to meet new people and focus on learning.
I agree. However, I’ve met new people by just taking random classes.
Millennial Moola has a couple good points there. You can find some great data on incomes at different degree levels. One thing I noticed right away was there is very little difference between BA/BS-Masters. From Masters-PhD there’s a bit more difference, and from high school-BA/BS there is a fairly big jump. School is so much more expensive these days that it’s becoming less and less economical for people to go back to school. Better to get the work experience and grow your income that way.
I happened upon this blog post because I’m questioning my own career path. I’ve been in medical for six years and I’ve hit my pay ceiling. To make more I have to go to school but I don’t want to continue in healthcare. So I’m heading towards finance but I have no idea what I want to do within the field and I’m not sure I’ll even like office work. Thankfully, I have the savings to pay for a bachelor’s degree many times over. What would your advice be Martin?
Thanks for stopping by. Hmm. Have you tried making money on your own? Do you really need more education? Another degree will take up four years of money and time.
I work full-time so school isn’t taking any wages away from me. It just makes my life super busy and not very fun haha
It’s all about your return on investment at the end of the day, but you have to really know what you’re doing before you start. Spot on advice by saying “don’t go to school just to go to school”. Couldn’t agree more. If you’re in an industry where you need some certification or degree to get a leg up and the extra salary will outweigh the debt, go get it!
There’s a slippery-slope mentality going around (not present in the article) that basically says that college isn’t worth it. Sometimes that’s true, many times it isn’t. People need to know the difference.
I think there is much more to college than just for the sole purpose of money. I went back to college at 23, with the mindset of attaining a Bachelors of Science, but I found something different. My view changed, I was not there for the money, I was there because I fell in love with learning. College has given me a great amount of knowledge, life is not just about the salary you make (although it is nice). I know some might disagree and say “you can learn without college or just read books”, and I do I am an avid reader and learner. Moving forward, going to college is about pursuing a higher education, not about getting paid more. If you carry the “college = more money mentality” most likely you will be disappointed. Also, for those who are saying “college is a waste of time and money”, here is my answer, college is what you make of it. And for those saying college is too expensive, there are plenty of ways to pay for school, for example I pay most of my education with scholarships, and no it is not free money because I work hard academically for my grades and for those scholarships. If you think they will be handed on a silver platter or just because, do not even try. To summarize it, my point is college offers new skills and for the most part more money, but if education is not on your list you will be disappointed, the end.
Exactly. I think people focus too much on the money aspect of life, and less about developing themselves, their intellect, and their enjoyment of life (through learning). You should really do both–focus on learning for enjoyment, but also have a good idea of how to use those skills for a specific job field.
I come from a low-income family and I was also a high school dropout. People need to understand that when they read an article such as this one they should analyze it with a grain of salt. This article is not intended for people like me who live slightly above the poverty threshold in this country. Education is viewed differently for us, it is a privilege to even attend a higher institution. Despite government grants including FAFSA and other state funding for low-income students, it is imperative that students have a clear understanding of the academic endeavor for which they are about to begin. Of course, everyone has the liberty to pursue whatever they desire, but they should also understand the value of what they are studying and making sure they are utilizing their free government assistance wisely. So yes, ROI is very important to discuss, but regardless, for students who are already underrepresented, it is important for them to continue their education and try to achieve the highest possible degree without incurring debt or weighing their financial options cautiously.
I never realized my hidden passion for knowledge until I enrolled at my local community college. I was able to develop academic maturity through courseworks that continuously tested my capability as a student. After I received my AS degree in math and science I then coninuted towards my BS degree at NYU, and was given a full scholarship (exclusively for community college students who show great potential and displaying financial need). There are plenty of resources out there to help students such as myself not only navigate through college as a first-gen student, but provide the financial resources to help make college a real possibility within reach. I am now heading to a reputable grad school for my program (had to receive strong GRE scores and GPA) that will only cost less than 10K per year (have a job that provides about 2-3K per month). So again, for prospective college students who read an article such as this one, analyze it carefully to understand whether this applies to you.
I LOVE this response. I teach high school at an awesome independent school: the fact that it’s independent (aka private) means that I have first rate teaching conditions and am well paid. The school also gives out $5 million per year in financial aid so that it is affordable for families who can’t afford tuition in this city. I love my job, and enjoy teaching high school age students even more than the college age students I used to teach (I turned down an offer for a tenure track professorship at Texas A&M: a life I enjoy more in exchange for less status). Nothing makes me happier than stories about people who discovered the world of ideas, developed the skill sets to go to Community College, a 4 year institution, and now graduate school. Love learning, work hard, find a life with purpose: that is my mantra.
For the record, I spent eight incredibly stimulating and intellectually rich years in grad school (Masters/PhD), and graduated debt free through a combination of working to renovate a house for rent (I am female, for those who assume that physical labor is only for males), fellowships, and working for the University as a graduate student instructor and research assistant. Those on campus jobs also paid tuition and provided health insurance. I also lived very simply.
I went to school twice. Technically 3 times, but I had to drop out in my first program when I was 18 due to a serious injury. I never went back because I realized it wasn’t for me, I was miserable and just did it because my family suggested the career (nursing) and I really had no idea what I wanted to ddo, anyways.
Then, in my early 20’s I went to school to become an educational assistant. I went this route because I had such a rough time in my previous program, and wanted to do something “easy” just to say that I graduated from something. Turns out the career itself wasn’t so easy as I thought it would be, and people who stick it out with this job truly deserve a pat on the back that they would never get from their co-workers. First off is the incredibly low pay, the endless amount of physical and emotional abuse you suffer from children and other employees because absolutely no one wants to deal with you or have you there in the first place, and just the overall exhaustion in general. Especially if you’re on – call (which you probably will be for about 7 years). I only lasted 1 year until I realized I had enough.
Fast forward at 24 I went back into another health care program for massage therapy. I studied my ass off and received my advanced diploma at 26. I found through hands on experience how much I really love helping people with their injuries, and just helping them relax as a whole. This is the first time I picked a career for myself. And what made it worth it even more was that I really had to try just to make a pass. Sometimes I’ve even failed, but I dusted myself up and kept going. Whereas with the educational assistant program I received 90’s just for showing up. For the first time in my life I felt like I actually achieved something for once, and that I finally had something that I could be proud of. I graduated as a Massage Therapist at age 26. I had to drive an hour to school and back (plus traffic) for 5 days a week every week.
After I take the license exam my ultimate goals are to work as a R.M.T on a cruise ship for a few years and then eventually open my own business. So, I’d be going from making less than $20k a year to possibly $90K plus tips per year. Not that money is everything, but it does feel like I’m being thanked for what I do, for a change.
Am I glad that I went back to school – hell yes.
Would I ever do it again – Hell nawh 🙂
Thanks for sharing this with us Lexi!
Did you seek financial aid when you returned at 20-26?? I’m curious if you had any student debt to pay off.
If you are thinking to Going college in 30 this is good idea. But spending full time in college at this age it’s not possible. If you have a will to continue your education then get admission in distance Education. There are a lots of colleges and universities offers various courses.
It seems that this article focuses on going back to college for monetary purposes only. I believe that if you have the resources to go to college to switch careers then you should do so even if you land a lower paying job. Speaking from personal experience, I’d rather be happy in a career I love than unhappy in a career I hate even if it means taking a pay cut.
That’s a really interesting point Fran. Thanks for sharing this. What career switch did you make?
I appreciate the way you shared such great information. I am happy to find such an informative post after so long. Hope more to come as I’m an avid reader. I tried to educate myself as much as possible.
I love your blog. I don’t normally comment but I really needed this one today – must be at the bottom dip of my roller coaster … sitting here with tears in my eyes. So just a thank you!
This article seems to focus on returning to college for financial reasons alone.If you have the resources to go to college to change careers, even if you get a low paying job I think you should. Speaking from personal experience, I’d rather be happy in a career I love than unhappy in a career I hate, even if my salary is reduced