Going Back to School At 30: Pros and Cons

Published on March 5, 2023 · Updated on May 7, 2023

Going Back to School At 30: Pros and Cons

Published on March 5, 2023 · Updated on May 7, 2023

If you’re thinking about going back to school at 30 but think you’re too, old–think again. You’re never too old for education, and if today’s world has taught us anything, it’s that life can change in an instant. The willingness to learn new skills, adapt, and be flexible are life-long qualities that are immensely valuable in a fast-paced workforce.

And that ever-changing workforce also means an ever-changing college population. Over time, the age of students heading back to school has steadily increased. In fact, according to EducationData.org, 9.3% of adult students enrolled in college are over the age of 30. Education is for everyone, and if you’re an adult learner 30 or older, here are some pros and cons to consider.

Pros of Going to School at 30

First things first: the pros. Every situation will be different and you need to consider your own personal circumstances in life, along with your other commitments, resources, and abilities at this stage in your life, but in general, here are some of the pros you can expect to find when going back to school at 30 or older.

As we mentioned earlier, life changes quickly. Adapting to the way that the world and workforce are changing is necessary to stay valuable and one of the best ways to add value to what you offer is by adding new skills to your resume. A degree, technical certificate, or advanced and specialty certifications can all equal valuable new skills that you can utilize in the workforce. The truth is, even skills you earned 12 years ago might be obsolete by now, so recognizing that fact––and taking the initiative to learn new skills––is a smart move.

Going back to school at 30 means bringing your own wealth of life and job experience into the classroom, which will enrich your learning. Additionally, whatever degree or certification you obtain will open up your door to build even more life and job experience too.

And as the APLU found in their data on college graduates, more college can quite literally enhance your life. They found that people with a bachelor’s degree are 47% more likely to have health insurance coverage and longer life expectancy. In fact, people with at least some college under their belt live an average of 7 years longer than those with no postsecondary education. Who knew, right?

Speaking of new skills, let’s talk about what comes after you gain all those valuable new skills to your resume: expanded income potential. In general, your income potential increases with advanced degrees and specialty certifications.

For instance, The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) notes that on average, people with a bachelor's degree earn around $32,000 more than those with a high school diploma alone. And those with a master’s tend to earn even more––about $12,000 higher per year than workers with a bachelor’s, according to the BLS. The average annual salary with a bachelor’s for workers over 25 is $56,000 and $68,000 for those with a master’s.

Let’s be honest–did you really know what you wanted out of life at the age of 18? Most of us don’t. And in fact, according to a job survey by Indeed, the average age that a person switches careers is 39, so going back to school now at 30 aligns perfectly with that timeline. The moral of the story is: you’re not alone if you’re considering a change in your life right now and going back to school could help you make that change happen.
Educationdata.org also found that most adult students are part-time learners, which makes a lot of sense–adult learners have much different responsibilities than a teenager fresh out of high school. By 30, you might have a mortgage, kids or other family members to care for and oh, right, a full-time job already. So as an adult learner, you can choose a more flexible schedule of classes that work for your life right now and not the other way around.
As an adult learner, you can take advantage of all types of different programs that may not be available to traditional undergraduate students, such as online learning, hybrid programs and virtual training. There may also be additional financial aid offered to you that you can take advantage of––for instance, you should check with your current employer to see if they offer any type of tuition assistance or reimbursement program. Some employers will either help pay your way (partially or in-full) and/or offer reimbursement after you complete a degree or certification in an in-demand field.

How many of us knew that drifter kid in college whose parents paid their way and yet they still flunked out because they just didn’t care? Yup, probably all of us. But that kind of pandering just doesn’t happen to adult learners because they have a clear goal in mind to stay motivated. There just isn’t time for outside distractions and of course, the fact that you’re paying your own way is pretty high motivation too.

But in all seriousness, if you’re intimidated by the thought of going back to school and worried it will be too overwhelming, the fact that you are motivated with a clear “why” for going back will be more than enough to get you through.

Cons of Going Back to School at 30

While there are clearly a lot of positives to going back to school, depending on your goals, there are also some important factors to take into consideration before making such a big decision.

It’s the (expensive) elephant in the room: going back to school can come at a very literal high price. Tuition tends to increase every single year, so there may be some serious sticker shock if the last tuition bill you saw was over a decade ago. And if you’re going for a graduate degree, it is important to consider whether a master’s degree will actually lead to a significant increase in your earnings. While the average worker with a master’s degree makes more than those with a bachelor’s, this isn’t true of every profession.

Training and development managers, for instance, tend not to make any additional income with a master’s vs. a bachelor’s degree. The BLS lists detailed breakdowns for many professions on the wage premium that earning a master’s can bring, so you’ll want to be sure that the payoff for paying off more student loans will be worth it for your individual situation.

Going back to university at age 30 is a time commitment and it may necessitate learning a lot of new skills. When was the last time you studied for a test? Do students even take notes by hand anymore? What about physical books–are those even used? Be honest with the time commitment and potential learning curve that adjusting to a new routine and schedule will entail. If you have other members of your household, that may take having a discussion about what the future will look like and how everyone’s roles might shift for a while.

Maybe you will need to hire extra childcare or maybe work out a solution to have a video of you reading the kids’ bedtime story since you’ll be in class at that time, but be clear about how your added time commitments will change any of your existing commitments.

All those jokes about reaching the age of 30 exist for a reason, right? You can definitely start to feel the effects of life into your 30s and you do need to take your own resources––including your energy reserves––into consideration. If you have a demanding career with no time to study, kids with high needs, or other situations that are using up your time and energy right now, it is something to consider if you can add studying to your plate right now too. However, if going back to school could drastically improve any situation you’re in right now, you will have to evaluate if the tradeoff will be worth it in the end.

Online Education and Adult Learners

If you do decide to make the decision to go back to school, the good news is that you have more choices than ever for attaining your educational goals. Online school is extremely prevalent and for adult learners, it may present the most realistic option to be able to go back to school.

Online school allows you to have more flexible class times, the ability to study and interact on your own time and is conducive to your life if you have other commitments, like a job or family. Some programs also allow you to do a hybrid mix of in-person and online learning, so you can choose an option that works for you.

No matter which type of education you choose, know that you are making the right choice for you as you reach for your goals in your 30s–and beyond.