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Going Back to School at 40 — You’re Never Too Old to Learn and Grow


There are many reasons you may want to go back to school at a later stage in life, and the truth is, it’s never too late! Going back to school at 40 may seem daunting, but with the right mindset you can definitely achieve your dreams of getting an education or changing careers.

You’re not alone — many adults decide to continue their education, and do so successfully. Some common areas of study for adult learners are in healthcare, engineering, and nursing. We give you top tips for these areas of study, plus the best careers for moms going back to school and which careers are definitely worth your while.

Adult student at the University of the People reading a book

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Benefits of Going Back to School at 40

The benefits of going back to school as an adult are to pursue a career interest you might never have had the opportunity to pursue, or to get ahead in your career once you’ve realized you’ve hit a limit. As an adult who is in school or has recently graduated, you will feel a higher job satisfaction because you know you’re on the right track and have chosen the best path for you.

As an adult student, you will come in with certain benefits compared to other students. Your life experiences, including work and prior schooling will have you at an advantage. You may be able to relate better to professors, have a higher level of discipline and organization and a better focus on what you want to do with your degree.

What to Expect When Returning to College: Learning as a Nontraditional Student

Going back to school at 40 is not without its challenges. You will need to make adjustments to your schedule in order to make time for school in addition to work and family.

You should also expect to feel a bit out of place in your new academic surroundings, with so much time away from school. But you can draw on your previous life experiences to help you — you’ve likely been through a lot. Use your years of wisdom to help you overcome the feelings of uncertainty that come with going back to school for the first time.

To help you be more prepared as an adult student, make your family your study support group. Explain to your children, partner, or roommates the importance of your studies and set new ground rules for your time. Get your family involved and they will become a great source of support.

Don’t forget about student groups as well. Try to form study groups in your classes and don’t be afraid to mix age groups!

Finally, to get you through the tough times, remember your reason for going back to school at 40. Focus on your end goals and you’re sure to pull through.

Navigating the Money

Going back to school at 40 is an extra expense, it’s true, but with the right financial planning and program, you can make it happen.

Make an adjusted budget for you or your family and stick to it. Try to save more money by eating in more, cutting back on unnecessary spending, and choosing an affordable program. University of the People is one of those programs —as it is tuition-free, you’ll only pay for exam fees which are $100 per undergraduate class and $200 per graduate class. And if that’s still a stretch for your budget, there are many scholarships available.

Consider Online Classes and Online College

University of the People students studying online together at a cafe

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Online classes, or even fully online degree programs are a great choice for adults going back to school. The flexibility of online school means that you can fit your education in with your current lifestyle. There is no commuting, and you can usually complete the lectures at any time.

At University of the People, all lectures are recorded and you can view them and complete assignments and exams at any time. We make education accessible and affordable to students of all ages and stages in life.

Leverage Prior Work Experience

With so much more work experience under your belt than the last time you were in school, you are surely at an advantage now. Use all that work experience to help you in school. Whether its organizational work, communication skills or public speaking skills, use what you’ve had years of practice in your school work.

You have also likely had experience working on a team, leading a team, or working with a supervisor. This can translate to a successful relationship with your professor as well as success in group projects.

Life Experience is an Asset

Your life experiences are also something to be used towards your school work.

If you have children, for example, you are likely to have higher responsibility and readiness for unexpected changes than your peers.

If you have experienced hardship, or worked hard to accomplish a goal, remember that going forward. Your past experiences and your abilities to push through are true testaments to your perseverance and commitment — those experiences will go a long way in school.

Best Careers Going Back to College for at 40

Careers in healthcare, technology, finance, education, marketing, and business administration are all hot areas for adults going back to school. These career areas are well suited to adult learners because of their job outlook, salary potential, and interest areas.

Adult student in healthcare

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1. Registered Nurse

Nursing is a secure and stable choice for going back to school at 40 due to its job outlook and high earning potential. You will also get the opportunity to help people, and you can choose to narrow down your nursing career by your interest.

Nurses make an average of $75,000 per year. It is possible to get an associate’s degree in nursing, but most often, nurses will get a BSN or Bachelors of Science in Nursing which takes four years. Expect to study anatomy, biology, and other hard sciences and mathematics.

2. Physical Therapist

Physical therapists help patients manage pain and increase movement and mobility after an injury, or due to disability. Physical therapists make an average yearly salary of $70,000, but can make up to $98,000.

If you already have a relevant Bachelor’s of Science degree, you may be able to complete a few prerequisites and go straight into your doctorate degree which should take you only three years.


1. Software Developer

Software developers create programs that become software using code. They are very detail-oriented, great problem solvers and have good self-discipline. It is certainly possible to learn to code later in life, and some can even do so on their own.

If you do choose to go back to school to become a software developer, a few options include boot camps or computer science degrees. Software developers with 2- or 4-year degrees can earn an average of $80,000 per year.

2. Web Developer

Web developers make an average of $75,000. They are the ones who write the programs for websites and test them to make sure everything is working properly. If you have an eye for design, you can make even more as both a designer and developer. Some web developers/designers choose to be freelancers, giving you time and freedom to keep your family life.

Some choose to teach themselves programming, but there are also many academic programs for web development. It is possible to get a 2-year or 4-year degree in Computer Science, or choose to enroll in a bootcamp.


Accountant working on computer

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1. Accountant

If you have a knack for numbers, high attention to detail, and are looking for a new career, being an accountant might be for you. Most accountants can expect to get a job after 4-6 years of study, either with a bachelor’s degree in finance, or a master’s degree in finance. Accountants can work in any field and make an average of $56,000 per year.

2. Financial Analyst

A financial analyst looks at a company’s data and makes financial recommendations and predictions. People who do well as financial analysts are outside-the-box thinkers, problem-solvers, and have a high attention to detail. Salaries for this career are at an average of $57,000 per year.

Financial analysts typically get 4-year degrees in finance. It is also possible to continue your education and get an MBA in Finance. Students will study business, economics, and mathematics.


1. Elementary School Teacher

Becoming an elementary school teacher is a rewarding career, and the hours and yearly schedule are very accomodating for adults with children. To become an elementary school teacher, you need a teaching certificate which usually requires a bachelor’s degree as well.

A bachelor’s degree in education takes 4 years to complete, and a teaching certificate can be obtained concurrently. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you may be interested in earning a master’s in education. Elementary school salaries vary by state, but expect to make around $45,000 per year.

2. Academic Counselor

Academic counselors work with students at the college level. This is a great job for people who enjoy working with young adults, and who want to provide guidance and help to those who are trying to better themselves. Academic counselors will help college students sort class schedules, graduate on time, admissions to certain programs, and help navigate college for a smooth transition.

An academic counselor usually needs a bachelor’s degree, and helpful degrees include education, counseling, social work, or psychology. Average salaries for this career are $48,000.


1. Market Research Analyst

With expected job growth at 23%, this is a great career to go back to school for. Market research analysts usually study market conditions and make reports for particular products or service, and how well they will do in a market.

Market research analysts typically need a 4-year bachelor’s degree in business or business marketing and will study topics such as economic trends, collective social behaviors, and data analysis. These types of analysts make an average salary of $63,000 per year.

2. Search Engine Optimization Specialist

SEO specialists update and optimize websites to be found on search engines. They are well-versed in digital marketing as well and can be a valuable asset to a company’s online presence. These specialists are experts in getting found on the internet and can also be hired as freelancers.

Search engine optimization specialists can either get digital marketing or SEO certificates, or associate or bachelor’s degrees in business or marketing. Salaries on average are $45,000 per year.

Business Administration

Executive administrative assistant and assistant working together on laptops

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1. Executive Administrative Assistant

Executive assistants are sometimes seen as second in command to the executives of a company. They are an invaluable part of the organization and help things to run smoothly. If you are good at forming relationships, are a quick learner and forward thinker, and excellent at planning and organization, this is a great career option.

Average salaries are at $65,000, but good executive assistants in the right industries can make up to $100,000. To become an executive administrative assistant, you should have a great set of skills, relevant experience, and sometimes a degree is required.

2. Industrial- Organizational Psychologist

Industrial-organizational psychologists look at the people and systems within a company to determine best working environments and situations. They will frequently determine hiring or structural organization of a department and can be internal employees or outside consultants.

To become an industrial-organizational psychologist, you will need a relevant degree. There are bachelor’s and master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology. Other options are getting degrees in both business and psychology. I/O psychologists usually have master’s degrees, and can make an average of $72,000, but it is possible to make well over $100,000.

Best Careers for Moms Going Back to School

As a mom, you inevitably have skills that others lack, as well as some special considerations or preferences when it comes to working hours and availability. Here are some great career options for moms thinking of getting back into school:

  • Teaching in any field
  • Marketing/Communications for digital marketing/social media management
  • Writing/Language for writing or copyediting
  • Mental Health Counseling which can be accomplished through a certificate or longer degree
  • Doula through a certificate program
  • Fitness Instruction through a certificate program

How to Balance School, Work, and Family

Parents with children balancing school and family life at University of the People

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The most important way to set yourself up for success as an adult going back to school is by making sure you have a clear plan for balancing school, work, and family. A good work-life balance will lead to less stress and ultimately, higher grades and student satisfaction.

Here are some top tips for balancing life as an adult student.

  • Get Organized: Make a set schedule and calendar. Ensure that you have a list of all textbooks, materials, and class times before the start of your studies.
  • Make Time: Put time aside for studying — make a set time each day or week that is your uninterrupted, unnegotiable study time.
  • Your Study Place: Make sure you have a good study area set up that is free of distractions, has a good light source, and all the materials you need to be most productive.
  • Get Help: Enlist the help of family and friends to help you stay on track with your studying and your academic goals.
  • Consider Online Classes: Online classes and degree programs are much more flexible and conducive to students who already have a full life before studying.

Make Sure to Brush Up on Your Skills

Group of people brushing up on their study skills

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You’ll be in college soon, and it’s likely been a while since the last time you were a student. Spend some time in the months leading up to the program start date to brush up on your skills such as:

Hard Skills

  • Common formulas
  • Science theories
  • Business practices
  • Anything that will help you in your specific field of study

Soft Skills

  • Note taking
  • Presentation skills
  • Communication skills
  • Self-discipline
  • Study habits

Computer Skills

  • Familiarize yourself with the school’s online portal
  • Ramp up your typing skills
  • Get better acquainted with word processors and presentation platforms

The Bottom Line

Changing careers and going back to school at 40 is both exciting and scary. But if you research the right path and program for you before you start, make sure your skills are up to par and have a great plan for balancing your home, school, and work life, you will surely achieve your career dreams!

University of the People