5 Financial Aspects to Consider Before Going Back to School

Your kids or grandkids went back to school recently, so why not you? More and more women in the “Prime” years are saying “yes” to going back to school.

If you are hesitant because you think you would be bucking conventional wisdom, be assured that you are not. The trends are supporting your notion, both in terms of age and gender.  Women began outnumbering men on college campuses in 1979 and the gap has widened since. In 2014, females comprised 57 percent of the students in after high school education.

The average age of college students has been trending upward, also. The last survey reported by the National Student Clearinghouse in 2012 showed that more than 38 percent of post-secondary students were 25 or older, and that percentage has been steadily increasing. One of the trends among that group is that just under half (46 percent) were part-time students. Not surprisingly, the percentage of part-timers increased with age.

And finally, the idea of a career change in “midlife” or traditional retirement years has become so prominent that coaching, testing, and book-writing industry has emerged to take advantage of it. The industry has its own lingo and there is no shortage of advice.

But before you quit your job and enroll full-time in a college program, take a breath and consider at least these factors. (Note: my incomplete list includes ideas you might not consider “financial,” but we’re talking about a significant chunk of your life here. My firm’s Lifestyle Driven Investing™ approach starts with figuring out what you want to do before we figure out how to pay for it.)

  1. What Suits You?– This might seem too basic, but it is common for those at the “second life” stage to experience a false start. It happens and is nothing to beat yourself up about, but wouldn’t you prefer to save time with a calling you can live with? It is great if you have an idea and are ready to pursue it. If the idea is vague or you are open to options, a great place to start is one of the career, aptitude, or strengths testing sources. One of the best is Gallup’s StrengthsFinder2.0 Besides your aptitudes and strengths, your work atmosphere needs to be considered, also. If you are accustomed to the size and scale of the corporate world, shifting to a small company (or solo operation) might be a difficult transition. If you are accustomed to a strict and hierarchical chain of command, working with and motivating unpaid volunteers could be a shock to your system.
  2. Bounce Your Idea Off Your Mentor(s)– Few things help flesh out an idea – and expose potential pitfalls – better than trying to explain it to someone else. Pick people you respect, trust, and will be honest with you. If you don’t have a mentor, then finding one might be a great place to start.
  3. Does It Need to Produce Income? (And If Yes, How Fast?)– If you are financially set, you can skip to item 4. The rest of you need to figure out how much money you need, whether your new calling will produce that level of income, and how much time you have to acquire new skills before you need to start producing that income. If you have the money, then a full-time educational program can work. If you need to keep producing income, part-time programs are the obvious choice. You also need to evaluate whether you can acquire the needed skills only in a traditional college degree program, or would a certificate program or trade school setting work?
  4. Are There Jobs Available? – Be real. How many blacksmiths, for example, can your community support, and how many are already working in the area? Will your career change require uprooting you and your family to where the jobs exist in your chosen field?
  5. Is There a Way to Test the Waters First? – Consider finding a way to test your idea part-time. Find someone doing something in the field and try to partner with them. It is common to have a general idea or direction, but not really understand how it translates into a saleable product or service. By partnering with someone already out there, you might learn what works and what doesn’t and have a head start in refining your idea over time.

I said there was an industry that has sprung up to support this trend. It is by no means exhaustive. Just do a search for “midlife career change” or “second half of life” or “encore career” and be prepared for lots of reading.