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Why college is important and how to go back as an adult

At a glance

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many occupations require some level of education beyond a high school diploma and opportunities increase for those with college degrees.
  • Along with salary and job opportunity benefits, a college degree can help build a network and enhance other areas of life outside of school.
  • Many adults may have credits from previous institutions or from work experience that can be applied toward their degree program.
  • Online schools, like University of Phoenix, offer flexibility for adults juggling work and life. Read how UOPX is built for the working adult.

Going back to college as an adult student

While a college degree isn’t required for every job, there are many occupations that typically require some education beyond a high school diploma or GED. In fact, a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2020 report on education level and project openings stated that occupations that require a bachelor's degree are projected to have the most job openings from 2019-2029.

On the other hand, there is also no shortage of stories out there celebrating the successes of people who have "made it" without going to college. It’s easy to look at those anecdotes and wonder, "Why go to college at all?" But despite how universal these stories seem, they do not actually reflect reality.

Let’s explore the impact of college and why you should consider getting a degree.

Why it is important to go to college

In general, college offers opportunities to students that they might not otherwise find. A degree can provide graduates with more skills and better prepare them for the workforce. It can also signify to employers that they possess the ability to succeed in a role. There are some trade or skill-based labor jobs where a college degree is not required (think construction and automotive work). However, the BLS report illustrated that many fields, from education to business, simply require college degrees of their employees.

The career and salary impact of going to college

There are many benefits of going to college, namely career opportunities and improved salary potential. One of the main reasons to go to college is to be able to find a job. But having a college degree can also be crucial when you’re trying to enhance your career. It can not only increase earning potential but provide the skills required in a competitive workforce.

The median salary for a person with a bachelor’s degree is about $1,300 per week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But when you look at the figures for adults with only a high school diploma, the median salary drops dramatically to $781 per week.

That’s a difference of more than $25,000 annually. BLS also notes that these figures, "do not take into account completion of training programs in the form of apprenticeships and other on-the-job training, which may also influence earnings and unemployment rates." As BLS also notes elsewhere, "the higher the level of education, the lower the unemployment rate" in general.

In addition to the career and salary impacts of earning a college degree, there are a number of additional impacts an education can have on a person’s life. Some of these include:

  • Building a robust network

People often develop lifelong friendships with their fellow college students, all of whom know people who know people. College offers an opportunity, in other words, to meet a wide range of people from all sorts of backgrounds. That network can help shape the future of your career.

Your school’s alumni — people who graduated from your school in a different year or class — offer yet another opportunity to expand your network.

  • Enjoying greater flexibility in choosing jobs

Workers without a bachelor’s degree often have fewer options for employment. They may also be unable to get a job in a field that interests them, such as environmental science or arts education, and instead be stuck in a job that does not tap into their passion, inherent knowledge or even prior experience.

  • Feeling a sense of accomplishment

Many graduates would say graduating from college is one of their proudest achievements. That’s because having a college diploma is a distinctive experience. A bachelor’s degree can boost your self-esteem and confidence because it speaks to your determination, skills and future potential.

Gaining skills and a lifelong learning mindset

You’ll learn more than just history, math, science and career-specific skills in college. College graduates also learn:

  • Problem-solving. There will be bumps along the way, including projects that go over budget, coworkers who don’t do the work and employees who leave your company in the middle of a stressful, already-understaffed time. People successfully navigate these tricky situations with problem-solving skills they’ve learned in college, where they have ample experience working with lab partners, teams and professors.
  • Critical thinking. This goes hand-in-hand with problem-solving. Critical thinking, however, can help not just in crises. You can use critical thinking skills to observe, analyze and interpret a variety of real-world situations. It is an essential life skill that you may use in countless ways your entire life and career.

For example, you might use critical thinking to assess the subtleties of what clients and others are trying to tell you through constructive criticism or outright complaints. You can use it when digesting news stories about current events, interpreting focus group reports at work and many other situations that require you to process information.

  • Stress management. Everyone gets stressed, even college grads working in the field of their choice doing the job they’ve already wanted. If you’ve experienced stress on the job or in school, you know how difficult it can be to stay cool under pressure.  You may make rash decisions or even lose the ability to do your job at all. College can also be stressful sometimes, particularly when a semester begins, and you may have trouble managing a new, important responsibility in your life.

Handling stress

Not all stress is bad stress, however. Some stress, such as adjusting to life as a college student and managing multiple responsibilities and deadlines, can be constructive.  This can serve as a great example of "trial by fire," in which a person can develop experience and important skills while learning how to manage their time and deal with unpredictable situations. Successfully doing so also builds the necessary confidence to remain or reclaim calm amid uncertainty and stay on track.

  • Money management. Managing money can be difficult, particularly if you’ve never had to keep a balance on a student dining card, pay for school expenses, budget for the next semester and so on. College students learn many of these skills simply by doing them. they have, in other words, two to four years of experience in a consequential environment, which in turn helps teach them the skills they need to manage their own money in the real world.
  • Creative writing and communication. Emails and phone calls are integral to many types of businesses, especially in sales departments, marketing/advertising, public relations and the private sector. The many communication opportunities that crop up in college can enhance your communication skills.

Learning new skills

These experiences and skills come in many forms, from interacting with professors to get clarification on an assignment to working with fellow students on a group project. You also learn to self-edit as you write and to proofread properly. All of this can come in handy later in your career.

Public speaking in college may also help you down the road. Giving presentations to a roomful of strangers can be scary without experience. Better to get that experience in school rather than at work when your job is on the line.

  • Personal and professional relationship skills. Meeting people is easy — it’s maintaining those relationships that are difficult. Balancing work and school can help you develop the skills you need to handle these complicated relationships later in life.

College is also an experience that may help you learn to draw the line between colleagues and friends. You may also foster memorable adventures and know the importance of practicing enough self-care.

  • Study skills. Naturally, when you need to give a big presentation for work, such as a sales pitch to a major new client, you will want to study up to avoid having to consult your notes and look like you don’t know what you’re talking about.

How to go back to college as an adult

If you’re considering going back to college as an adult, you may be a little overwhelmed by all the things you have to do to prepare. It doesn’t have to be stressful, though. Getting started is all about making an organized plan of action.

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about making college a reality.

Steps for going back to college as an adult

Before you can decide where you’re going, you first have to examine where you’ve been. If you’ve previously attended an accredited university, you may have college credit that you can transfer and apply to your degree. This is important because transferring credits can save you both time and money. Plus, it gives you that mental boost to finish what you’ve started.

After you determine whether you have existing eligible credits (and if they meet the transfer requirements), start researching schools to find the program for you. Are you thinking of going to school to break into nursing? Or does your passion lie in the realm of business or technology? Understanding where you want to be and how to get there starts with finding the right degree track.

Online universities offer a lot of advantages to adults who want to go back to school. In addition to 24/7 course availability (with sometimes several days to complete coursework), online universities can offer one-at-a-time class options, lower overall costs compared to in-person programs and greater flexibility than traditional colleges.

According to the educational services company, Peterson’s, there are several other key steps to take when going back to school to get your degree. Once you narrow your search for the right college, ask each school’s office of admissions if there are any prerequisite courses. You may need to complete those or meet any other requirements (besides a high school diploma or GED) to attend the school. Peterson’s also recommends that, after applying for programs or enrolling in school, immediately apply for financial aid, including scholarships and federal student aid.

How to choose the right college program

There are far more college programs out there than there used to be — and that’s a good thing. From business leadership to environmental science, the diversity of degrees currently available means students can tap their natural curiosity and interest when selecting a degree and subsequent career.

At University of Phoenix (UOPX), the range of college program options is quite broad. For instance, let’s say you are a registered nurse (RN) but are considering a career in administration or a specialty like family nurse practitioner. UOPX offers an RN-BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) program as well as Master of Science in Nursing programs to help you learn the skills for these careers. Or, if you’re great with computers, the Bachelor of Science in Information Technology program may be the way to go.

How to apply to online college

Applying to college is an important process. Make sure you set aside a few uninterrupted hours to focus on your application. One of the first things you’ll want to do for each school you plan to apply to is look up its admissions requirements, as each college will have its own.

If you have college credits from another institution and/or work-related training, some schools may allow you to convert your credits to their program(s). You can then later apply them toward a potential degree or certificate. University of Phoenix accepts a variety of transfer credits. We also offer free Prior Learning Assessment so students can earn credits for their work and life experience.

Many traditional, campus-based colleges have strict semester deadlines, but online universities are typically more flexible, offering start dates for programs on a kind of rolling calendar. If you’re wondering when and how to start, visit the University of Phoenix website for help today.

How do I transfer credits from one college to another?

For academic credits to be eligible for transfer, they generally must be from courses that appear on an official transcript from an approved, accredited university. Generally, students must have passed a class with a minimum grade of a C-minus for the credits to qualify. (All universities are different, though. Check with the office of admissions to see if your credits qualify under its policy.)

Admissions representatives can also help you figure out whether your prior school has what’s called a "transfer agreement" with your next one. If so, it’ll make it easier to migrate your credits to the new institution.

From there, you’ll need to fill out a request form in your desired area of study, and have an enrollment/admissions representative help you figure out which credits are eligible to transfer.

Plan your finances for going back to college an as adult

The next step is to figure out your financial situation. Identify what kind of budget you have for school and how much your new education will cost you in both the short and long-term. Federal  student aid, which includes grants and loans, may help cover educational costs.

To apply for federal student aid, you’ll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). To do so, you’ll need to report your annual income and assets. This will help determine what you are eligible for. And while it can be intimidating to document so much personal information, the rewards can be worth it.

If you are eligible, federal student aid can help cover tuition, textbooks and other classroom materials. For more information on eligibility requirements and the different types of federal student aid, visit

It’s also a good idea to consider applying for scholarships do not have to be repaid. Free online resources for returning students can be a great way to see what you may be eligible for.

Beyond federal student aid and scholarships, there are certain inherent benefits to online universities. With one-at-a-time class structures, virtual classes can offer serious economic incentives.

Non-financial benefits

Another benefit may not be quantifiable financially. However, it can offer just as much or more value. We're talking about the support students can receive in an online setting. Chris Gloor, vice president of enrollment at UOPX, said that students may connect with their academic counselor or re-entry representative, [who] are trained as coaches to help students navigate through issues that may be impacting their studies.

"If students are facing issues surrounding their well-being, we offer assistance in a variety of areas. These include counseling services, life coaching and access to volumes of related articles," he said.

Whether you’re ready to find the right program for you or are just starting to explore admissions requirements, UOPX has resources to help you take that first and critical step toward going back to school.

Earning a college degree at University of Phoenix

College is important and can be much more attainable than many may think. By attending University of Phoenix (UOPX), you don’t have to move to a major city or commute long distances to attend college. University of Phoenix offers 24/7 class access, one-at-a-time course loads and a range of advantages designed to accommodate adult schedules. This means students don’t have to interrupt their work schedule to attend three to five days of classes each week. They also don't have to manage the immense course load that may go with it.

Now more than ever, a college degree can be a prerequisite for getting a job. But it has also never been easier to sign up for classes that fit your schedule and lifestyle. Visit to learn more about our bachelor degree programs in high-growth fields as well as our single professional development courses.


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