13 Questions to Ask When Going Back to College

13 Questions to Ask When Going Back to College

10 minute read

Whether you're seeking to advance your career, fulfill personal aspirations, or acquire new skills for an ever-evolving job market, your educational journey as an adult isn’t the same as that of a recent high school graduate. Things are different now, and you likely have more factors to consider. 

From defining your educational journey to talking with your boss about changes to your schedule, we have a list of questions you can ask yourself (and the school and your boss) that will help you get started. These questions are designed to be a jumping-off point for you to determine your goals and set your path in the right direction.

Why You Might Go Back to School

One of the biggest reasons you might go back to school as an adult could be to make a career change. As your industry changes or your job evolves, you may be required to update your current skillset. Going back to school can help you gain the new knowledge you need to advance your career.

Perhaps you never finished school the first time around, and you’re looking to complete your degree. Going back to school and finishing your program can provide a certain amount of personal fulfillment. 

You might just be curious about new subjects and value lifelong learning. It’s possible that you’ll end up taking classes that will introduce you to areas of interest that you have never considered. Returning to school becomes an ongoing exploration of the world around you.

6 Questions to Ask Yourself When Going Back to School

Whatever your reason for going back to school, know that you’re embarking on a journey that can help you grow both as a person and in your career — or change careers to something better suited to your current phase of life. 

The following questions are meant to help you chart the best course for yourself right now, especially as an adult or “non-traditional” student.

1. What Are My Interests?

Identifying your interests will help you choose a new career or course of study that you find personally fulfilling. Think about what you like to do outside of your current job. If you enjoy volunteering with children, consider a career in education. If you’re fascinated by medicine, think about a potential career in healthcare. 

The things you do for fun and outside of work indicate possible new fields you might explore. Look at patterns or recurring themes in your life that have made you feel genuinely enthusiastic. From technology to literature to the outdoors, your interests can guide you toward your new profession.

2. What’s the Outcome I’m Hoping For?

Determine why you’re pursuing a degree. Perhaps you never completed college earlier in life. Maybe your goal is a job promotion or a transition to an entirely new career. 

This distinction will direct you toward the right educational path. If the aim is personal achievement or addressing an unfinished academic journey, the focus may be on completing a degree. However, if the objective is professional advancement or a career change, think about which courses will align with your goal.

3. What Courses of Study Should I Pursue?

Understand the specific qualifications for your desired field or the next step in your career. Then, tailor your educational path to meet those requirements.

Keep your options open, especially if you find it challenging to narrow down your choices. Consider taking classes that could be applicable to multiple related careers, like basic programming languages or project management. This will broaden your skill set and make you a more competitive candidate in the job market.

4. How Much Time Can I Devote to Classes?

Try to be realistic when it comes to how much time you can devote to classes. This will help you avoid burnout down the line. If you're already committed to a full-time job or actively caring for a family, acknowledge your time constraints.

Opting for a part-time or flexible class schedule can enable you to strike a balance between your academics and other commitments. This approach prevents you from trying to manage a full-time course load on top of your current responsibilities. One way to do this is to consider online or evening classes that provide the flexibility to learn at your own pace. Some schools may even offer asynchronous options which allow you to work on coursework whenever is most convenient for you.

When you set achievable goals, you give yourself the space to meet both your educational and personal obligations without compromising your well-being. 

5. How Will I Afford This?

Unfortunately, school costs money. Be realistic about the financial implications of going back to school. If you need to take a leave of absence from work, reduce your hours, or resign altogether to get your degree (which we’ll discuss in more detail below), make sure you factor in the potential loss of your full-time income. Consider how you’ll support yourself (and possibly a family) without this income.

To help pay for school, explore financial aid options, scholarships, or employer-sponsored education programs. Some online platforms provide flexible payment plans or pay-as-you-go options, allowing you to manage costs more effectively.

6. How Do I Prepare to Go Back to School?

Preparing to return to school as an adult might involve things like childcare arrangements, time off work, and other logistical adjustments.

If you have familial responsibilities, you’ll need reliable childcare so you can focus on your studies without compromising your family obligations. At work, speak with your employer about potential time off or reduced work hours.

It might be worth starting with individual courses on a monthly basis rather than taking on a full course load. This approach eases you into the academic routine, allowing for a smoother transition without overwhelming yourself. It provides flexibility, accommodating your schedule and reducing the likelihood of burnout, and it allows you to “test the waters” of a new field without committing time and money to a full-time course load.

4 Questions to Ask About Your Potential School

Among your preparations for going back to school, make sure you choose the right institution for your learning path.

1. What Is the School’s Accreditation?

Understand your potential school's accreditation before you apply. Accreditation is a formal recognition granted to institutions that meet specific academic standards. It ensures that the education provided by the institution is of a certain quality. Only institutions conferring degrees can be accredited. 

Accreditation comes in two primary categories: regional and national. These distinctions can impact the transferability of your earned credits in the event you switch institutions.

Regional accreditation is more rigorous and widely accepted, making it easier for credits earned at one institution to transfer to another. National accreditation, while still valid, may have limitations in terms of being able to transfer credits to a regionally accredited school. Check your school’s accreditation in case you decide to transfer during your pursuit of a degree.

2. Where Are the Classes Taught?

Are the classes only in-person, or are there online options? The answer to this will help you plan your time commitments. For example, going to in-person classes will require you to factor in commute time as you plan your new schedule. Depending on how far the campus is from your job or home, this could take hours out of your day. 

3. How Are the Classes Taught?

If you’re taking online classes, you’ll need to know whether they’re taught asynchronously or synchronously. Asynchronous classes are usually pre-recorded, so you can take the class at any time that’s convenient for you. Synchronous means everyone shows up at the same time and learns together. 

Find out whether the classes have start and stop dates you’ll need to be mindful of or if they’re entirely self-paced. Even asynchronous courses may have designated “semesters” or “terms” when you’ll have access to the material and videos.  

And finally, find out what resources are available to you. Will you need to download anything? How do you reach your professor? Where do you turn in your assignments? Find these answers before you sign up for classes so you’re prepared well in advance.

4. How Much Do Classes Cost?

The total cost of all necessary classes will play a significant role in your financial planning. Remember to factor in tuition, fees, books, lab materials, and any other additional expenses associated with the courses. 

Some institutions may offer financial aid, scholarships, or flexible payment plans, so make sure you know what your options are so you can create a realistic budget.

3 Questions to Ask Your Boss When Going Back to School

For adults who are working while going back to school, these questions can help ease the transition — and possibly cut down on college costs. 

1. Will You Pay for My Education?

Depending on why you’re going back to school and what courses you’ll be taking, your company may offer to cover some or all of your tuition. This is usually called a tuition reimbursement program, and it’s offered by some—but not all—companies. Have a conversation with your HR department or supervisor to gather information about the tuition reimbursement program. 

Make sure you understand the specific requirements and conditions associated with this benefit. Companies often have policies outlining eligible courses, minimum grades required, and any contractual obligations tied to reimbursement.

2. Can I Change My Schedule?

Certain companies may offer flexibility or part-time scheduling options to accommodate employees pursuing educational goals. If your company allows this, it can go a long way toward helping you find a balance between work and school. Just make sure you fully understand the company's policies regarding schedule changes before you enroll.

3. Can I Take Time Off?

If you can’t work full-time while you go back to school or if your company can’t accommodate a flexible or part-time schedule, ask if you can take a leave of absence while you’re learning. During the leave of absence discussion, ask if your old job will be there when you return — or, perhaps, a guaranteed promotion now that you’ll have new skills to offer. 

Discuss the terms of your leave. This option may depend on the nature of your educational goals. If your intention is to enhance your skills for career advancement within the company, your employer might be more receptive to granting a leave of absence and holding a job for you.

Learn On Your Own Time & At Your Own Pace With StraighterLine

With StraighterLine, adults returning to school can learn on their own schedule and at their own pace through our asynchronous courses. Our courses include e-textbooks and full student support services. Take one class at a time to sample a new field or to maintain a work-school-life balance. Or bundle and save 20% or more when you follow one of our Career Pathways programs! 

Wherever your educational journey takes you, StraighterLine is here to help. Explore our courses today to get started.

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