A midlife degree can help you professionally and personally
Over 50 and considering going back to college to get a degree?
If you do, you might see significant payoffs professionally and personally.
After a Master’s: New Job, Better Pay
Consider Tony Ubelhor, who found himself out of a job in 2009 at age 55. He’d been teaching English, writing and American literature at the University of Kentucky, but a departmental reorganization resulted in layoffs. Because he had a master’s in English but not a Ph.D., a tenure-track teaching job — and therefore job security — was out of reach.
(MORE: Why I Went Back to College)
So Ubelhor researched his next move. He learned that the University of Kentucky offered an online Master of Library Science degree and discovered that job opportunities in the field were plentiful. To facilitate getting the degree, and a job, fast, Ubelhor took out about $20,000 in student loans and went back to school full-time.
“The hardest thing about it was taking on student loan debt,” he said. “But I figured it was worth it to become gainfully employed again as quickly as possible.”
Last year, at 59, Ubelhor landed a tenure-track position as assistant professor for Library Science at Columbia Basin College in Washington, making significantly more money than he did before.
(MORE: When Does It Pay to Go Back to School?)
From Stay-At-Home Mom to RN
Then there’s Nita Scott. After spending years as a stay-at-home mom, she got a Pell grant and went back to school in 2004, at 54, to receive an associate degree in nursing from Macon State College (now Middle Georgia State College). Since then, she has worked as a registered nurse for 10 years at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Ga.
Her greatest challenge? “English class,” she said. “But I was determined to do it, and I did.”
Scott said she found it easy to stay focused on studying and homework, while many of her classmates had other priorities. “I was settled, but young people get really distracted by dating,” Scott added.
(MORE: For Boomers, It’s Back to Class Time)
Proud to Earn a Bachelor’s At 67
Cinni Milliken had a rockier road to her degree. In her teens, Milliken briefly attended Stetson University before dropping out. Next, she attended community college in the 1980s and dropped out again. In 2001, Milliken attended Santa Fe Community College and she finally got her bachelor’s in English from the University of Florida in 2005 — at age 67.
Milliken didn’t get her degree to help snare a job. She went back to school because it was something she’d always wanted to do. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree was unfinished business and gave her a sense of accomplishment.
“Older students tend to be more focused and committed to doing well because they have a clear goal in mind,” said Milliken. “They know why they’re going back to school; they’re not going just because it’s expected of them.”
5 Reasons to Get a Degree After 50
Here are five reasons you might want to go back to college for a degree after 50:
A sense of accomplishment As Milliken noted, getting a college degree in your 50s or 60s can make you proud of yourself.
Better job prospects In June 2014, the unemployment rate for adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 3.3 percent. But for high school graduates with no college, it was 5.8 percent; for those with some college or an associate degree, the rate was 5.0 percent.
Personal growth A degree isn’t just a piece of paper or a badge. It’s an indication that you’ve learned something — and learning is a form of growing.
A great way to keep busy If you’re in retirement, going back to college for a degree might prove to be the key to staying mentally active. Endless rounds of golf and constant game show reruns can’t compete with that.
A way to contribute to society This may not seem obvious at first glance, but a degree can be a great first step towards making the world a better place. For example, a degree might open the door to teaching at-risk kids.
Stephen L. Antczak is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and is the author of four books and more than 50 short stories.
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