Going Back To School as an Adult

Thinking about a career change? Want to upgrade your schooling? I 100% recommend you do it. It takes a bit of time, but it’s certainly one of those situations where if you do nothing then in 5 years you’ll still be where you are today. Getting started now means in 5 years or so you’ll actually have that degree and career change you want today.

I did

I failed out of school in the 1980’s. Not because I couldn’t get the marks, but because I didn’t get the marks. I had too many other things going on back then to even bother attending classes.

Fast forward to a career without a degree (which was limiting), a family, a mortgage, a dog, all the trappings. But no degree. It was always on my bucket list to go back and finish but it was intimidating to do so mid-career. I figured I’d go back when I retired.

Then I was in our back bush splitting wood one day, letting my mind idle. And I realized, hey, I could be dead by the time I retire. I’m going to head back to the house and look into it now – no more waiting. Lets go get the degree.

Start today

It’s February in Canada….and that means looming deadlines for school applications. If you’re planning on going back to school, you better get started NOW on your applications. If you wait until May or this summer, you’ll be too late and it’ll be put off another year.

Application Requirements

Don’t think you can get in because of your old marks? Think again. For many degree choices, a mature student application is treated seperately from other new students. They’ll look at your career, your age, how long you’ve been out of school and other educational things you’ve done in the meantime. If they think you’ll be succesful at your current age, you’re likely to get admitted even if your last set of school marks sucked – so don’t let that stop you.

As I mentioned above, I’d actually been kicked out of university when I was young. I reapplied many years (I was actually 50 when I reapplied) later and was successfully readmitted, with a few conditions I’ll talk about in a bit.

Paying for it

OK, so if you’ve got family and responsibilities, it’s difficult to just drop everything for a few years and go back to school full time. So I went to school part time.

There’s two ways to attend these days. If you need to go in person, see if your workplace will let you take a few hours off a couple times a week and make up the hours later. When I was in-class, I just tried to schedule my classes either around lunch time, or first thing in the morning, and also I tried to schedule my classes together. That meant Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I’d be in class say from 8 to 10, then back to work after that. Not much work missed.

Secondly, today many courses are available fully online and recorded. So you can work full time and just take your courses at night – no loss of work. I did this towards the end of my education.

At that point, paying for it really isn’t that bad. You’ve got tuition and maybe some book costs – but that’s in the low thousands per year and if you’re working full time can be made to be affordable since done properly you won’t have any income loss. Your living expenses don’t change since you’re not a 20 year old student going to live away from home for the first time.

I’m stupid

Don’t think you can do it? Don’t have the horsepower? Think again. Mature students generally do very well in school, often near the top of their classes. You don’t have to be classically ‘smart’, the secret to doing well in school is hard work more than smart. And if you’re a mature student, you already know how to work hard on something, plus you’ll be motivated. It’s just work – do the work, and you’ll be surprised at your marks.

For example, when you’re in a course and you’re studying, you’ll maybe realize that you don’t know the material as well as you should. And what you’ll do is…study more. 20 year old students won’t always do that, they’ll just take the marks that they get. You won’t, you’ll be committed, and your marks will show it. Again, mature students generally do very well marks wise, and it’s all because of their committment.

My experience

So I applied when I was 50, and got accepted. But since I’d failed out previously, they didn’t let me into the program directly – I had to prove myself first. So I took 2 courses a term as ‘non-degree’ status. I did that for two terms and my marks were good. I petitioned, and they accepted me into their three year degree program. My first attempt from when I was a kid was still part of my transcript, those marks brought my average down and I didn’t have the overall average necessary to meet the requirements for a four year honours degree.

I kept taking 2 courses per term. That meant studying almost every night and on weekends. I kept a calendar and kept well ahead of classes. Assignments were done the weekend before they were due (again, this is the type of behavior that will set you apart from younger students, and contributes to your success). Eventually I pulled my overall average up, and they let me shift into a 4 year honours program, majoring in a fairly competitive discipline.

During this time, I went to class about 3 days a week, for a couple hours first thing in the morning. Or, sometimes I had evening classes for 3 hours one night a week. I attempted to stay away from going back and forth to the school, by watching the timing of the courses I was registering for.

5 years later, success. I completed my educational requirements, my last terms were ‘with distinction’, and I got my rectangular piece of paper I keep somewhere in my files with my mortgage and life insurance papers.

Not done yet

By this point both my kids were through their undergrad and working on masters degrees. So I figured what the heck, I’ll get a masters. Applied, and got accepted (since my marks were now pretty decent).

My masters degree was course based, and 100% online. So now I just watched the videos at lunch time or evenings, and studied evenings and weekends. Again I took two courses a term, 3 terms a year, for 2 years. Last December I graduated with a masters.


My first recommendation is, if you’re thinking about upgrading your education, do it. And do it now. It’s way more fun than you expect, meeting other people, learning new stuff that you’re interested in, and it’s also challenging. Plus you’ll likely excel more than you think.

Cost isn’t too bad. Since it’s just tuition, and you should continue to work full time, the costs are in the thousands per year and should be affordable if you’re working full time.

I did get a bit stressed before exams sometimes, but not as bad as you might think, because I knew I was prepared. In terms of family life, I did have to put my other hobbies on hold. I had to watch when our family vacation was (family vacation in August, final exams in August, and exams take precedence). And my spouse kicked in and helped a lot – the lawn maybe didn’t always get cut as frequently as it should’ve.

All in all, I would do it again in a heartbeat, and recommend that if you’re thinking about it, you should do it to.