While some people have always known what they want to do in life, others’ path to career satisfaction takes a bit longer. That could mean not knowing what you want to do for a living until you’re in your mid 30s.
While you can certainly switch careers, if your change of heart requires more education, you may have asked yourself: Is 35 too old to go back to school? Age is truly just a number, but there are some questions to consider. Here’s what experts have to say.
HOW'S MY MINDSET?
If your only concern is your age, your outlook may be the bigger issue, according to career coach Carlota Zimmerman, who enrolled in law school at the age of 33.
“If you think 35 is too old to go back to school, what are you really telling yourself?” she says. “That you're stuck in a career you don’t like? That you missed your best years? That your dreams and ambitions aren't worth the effort? That you aren't worth the effort? That kind of thinking is guaranteed to hurt you.”
The bottom line is, yes, the logistics of going back to school may pose a challenge, but try to separate those from your insecurities.
WHAT WOULD BE THE FINANCIAL IMPACT?
While many people choose to go back to school to increase their earning power, that may not be a guarantee depending on the job or industry you’re interested in. “I can remember wanting to return to school to get my Ph.D. in psychology,” says certified career counselor Damian Birkel. “Once I talked it out with my mentor, I realized how expensive it would be and that my long-term earning potential would drop, as opposed to finding a new job in my field.”
What’s more, at 35, you may be approaching the height of your earning power and have a lifestyle or financial responsibilities that are difficult to support with decreased income. On the other hand, getting an advanced degree could mean you don’t need to start from the bottom if you’re switching industries.
So before you decide whether going back to school is worth it, weigh factors like whether a degree is actually necessary to get ahead in your desired field; how much in student loans you might have to take out; and what financial goals you may be putting on pause in order to go back to school.
HAVE I CONSIDERED ALL MY OPTIONS?
Boosting your skillset doesn’t mean you have to be a full-time student. Start by reaching out to your professional network. You may uncover options for continuing education that don’t require a full grad school tuition, such as night courses or community college programs. Your employer may also offer tuition assistance if your coursework helps you in your current role.
If you already have a degree, your alma mater could put you in touch with someone in a similar position, Zimmerman suggests. “Contact the programs you're interested in and ask if they have older alumni you can talk to,” she says. “Trust that the more people you contact, the greater chance you'll have of finding someone who went back to school and is happy to talk.”
If you aren’t able to attend regular classes, online education or professional certifications may be less disruptive to your life. These can also be a great way to ease back in before committing to more time-intensive programs. “Take part-time courses, or at least monitor the classes,” Zimmerman says. You’re likely to see students in your age range. “They did it. So why not you?”