Delayed education

We tend to write for college students and recent college graduates in mind, given our plethora of articles about making the most out of college, surviving finals, and what to do after graduation. But what about those who took a different path after high school?

While the number of people enrolling in college is ever-increasing, nearly 34 percent of high school graduates in the United States in 2012 made the decision to forgo further education, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s certainly possible to be successful without a degree under your belt, whether your definition of success is measured in money, miles traveled, or in people befriended. However, the statistics reveal a number of benefits to buckling down and going after that degree, including a higher income, better health, and job stability.

Whether you’re 20, 29, or beyond, it’s never too late to give college a try. But if you have never filled out a college application or sat for a compass test, how do you even begin?

The first step, in my opinion, is to start a conversation with a financial advisor. College is expensive and scholarships are few and far between, but if you truly want to pursue higher education, don’t let the price tag scare you off.  There are many options out there to cut tuition costs, including financial aid or going to community college for your first couple years.  An advisor can help you find the best option for your individual situation.

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Once you have an idea of how you will pay for college, your next stop should be to meet with an academic advisor. Advisors are there to guide students through their studies, as well as to offer insight to prospective students.  Find out as much as you can about the program, including degree requirements, career prospects, scholarships, and grants. Having realistic expectations about college is key, no matter your age.

Next, decide how you will get involved in your education. Some of the most important experiences in college happen outside the classroom. If you’re 25-years old and just beginning college, you will probably be less interested in Greek life and frat parties than your 18-year old classmates, and it may be difficult for you to relate with some of the students in student organizations. Thus, you’ll want to find other ways to get extracurricular experiences. I recommend internships, part-time work, and volunteering in your field.

My last piece of advice applies to any goals you have in life, whether it’s getting healthier, saving money, or furthering your education: just go for it. Prepare your application materials, have others proofread your entrance essays, and send your application in early. It’s all too easy to give the excuse that you’re too old or you missed your opportunity, but it’s never too late to seize what you want out of life.  As Charles Dickens wrote, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”

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