For many of us, the words “back to school” summon up feelings of anxiety.
And if you’re considering a career shift in your 50’s, you’re probably also wondering whether it’s worth it to start fresh, and how you can balance education with the many other responsibilities competing for your time.
Rest assured: even if it means taking a course and sacrificing your time for a few months, it’ll all pay off in the long-term. After all, you’re not just working toward a new skill, but a future that inspires you.
We’re going to make this big decision a little easier. We’ll walk you through your education options so you can weigh the pros and cons of each. And we’ll even introduce you to a few others who decided to change careers and go back to school.
School At 50: How Will It Be Different?
You have a different set of criteria for your education than someone who’s 18 and deciding whether they need a car on campus. But the biggest decisions remain the same. You’ll have to figure out:
- How much time you can commit
- How much you can spend (and how you’ll pay)
- How to choose a school
Here are our tips for navigating each of those questions, and landing on an education format that feels right for you.
How Much Time Can You Commit?
If you want a relatively fast transition into your new career path, then full-time is the way to go if you can swing it. If you’re already working, juggling family responsibilities or just want a little more flexibility, then you should choose a part-time program.
How Much Can You Spend?
If you don’t already have a budget in mind, then now is the time to come up with one; even if it’s just a ballpark range. This will help you decide whether you’re ready to enroll in a program next week, or if you need to give yourself six months to save up the funds.
Any education path you choose will likely offer flexible payment options, like paying month-to-month, upfront, or via a loan. But regardless of how you pay, be sure you’re comfortable with that final price tag.
How to Choose The Right School?
Notice we didn’t say “college.” That’s because there are many different education formats out there. And if you’re learning a new skill in your 50’s, then you’ll probably value flexibility, remote learning, and tangible outcomes.
Read on for our breakdown of all the education options available to you.
Recommended Learning Pathways
Here’s the good news: when it comes to choosing an education format, you have more options than ever. While some adult learners go the traditional route and earn a degree, many appreciate the accelerated, flexible format of online learning.
Here are some of the most popular pathways to a new career, and the pros and cons of each.
For most people who are considering breaking into a new field, college is the first option that comes to mind. And there are some real benefits of earning a degree. But before committing a hefty amount of time and money, there are also downsides that you should consider.
- You’ll go in-depth on a subject
- For some employers, a college degree is more impressive than a certificate of completion for an online course
- Some colleges offer online courses and degrees for added convenience
- You’ll commit a lot of time (at least two years) before earning the degree to show for it
- College is more expensive than other options
- You may not receive personal career guidance
- College curriculums tend to be dated and may not be tailored to the current job market
In some fields, you can earn a certificate to prove your knowledge. The value of a certificate depends on the discipline, and the type of certificate you’re earning. Some certificates are required in order to excel in a field.
- Advertises your knowledge of a subject
- Looks good on a resume
- In certain fields, may help you get hired
- Won’t teach you everything you need to know to start a career, since most certificates test your knowledge in a relatively narrow area
- Typically doesn't include career guidance
- Doesn't usually include live instruction
There are many online courses that are free or low cost, and are a great way to get you started as you learn a new skill. You'll get a good introduction to your new field without committing a lot of time or money right at the get-go. And if you're trying to enter a tech career, like software engineering or UX design, you can apply what you've learned by doing practice projects at home.
- Low cost
- Not much time required
- Easily accessible from home
- No one-on-one mentorship
- No additional career support
- Little or no personalized help when you run into challenges
Bootcamps are online programs that teach you the skills to get hired in a new field. They used to be limited to coding, but now you can attend a bootcamp for a wide range of specializations within the tech industry.
- Less expensive than college
- Faster than a college degree (most bootcamps last under a year)
- Format is designed to be online
- Curriculum is more tailored to the current job market
- Not as in-depth as a 4-year degree
- Some fields require a degree in order to get hired
Why Other 50-Year-Olds Chose a Bootcamp Over College
You’re not the first to go looking for a major career shift in your 50’s. There are many adult learners who were established in their field, but eventually decided it was no longer the right path for them. They made the switch, and landed in a career that motivates them to go into work every day.
Some reasons why others in their 50’s might choose a bootcamp over college could include:
- More flexibility
- Personal mentorship
- Convenient, online format
- Part-time and online options to choose from
- Success is measured by career outcomes, not a diploma
Lucy Sanders is a perfect example of why an online bootcamp and personal mentor works well for adults who are seeking a change. She went from registered nurse to Software Engineer in under a year. For her, the combination of an online curriculum and personal mentor was just what she needed.
“I learn better by solving my own problems and my mentor gives me space to do that. It has relieved any anxiety I had about switching careers and learning something new knowing there is always one person I can turn to if and when I need assistance.”
Ondine Rangel also chose to learn web development online. She had forged careers in both production and book publishing before she discovered her love for coding. She chose to enroll in a bootcamp because of the flexibility.
“I liked that Thinkful was part-time and lasted much longer than the usual 12-week bootcamp. I wanted to learn and Thinkful gave me time to really dive in while still getting me to where I wanted to be in a relatively short time.”
She graduated and became a Web Developer. “I love my job! I’m happy to go to work. I have the best coworkers. They are a diverse bunch, friendly, and always ready to help and laugh. I love the feeling of building something together. I love working out how to get the code to work with other people.”
4 Tips for Going Back to School at 50
Before you commit to a learning pathway, we recommend doing these four things to set yourself up for success.
- Articulate What Your Goals Are
Consider why you want to pick up a new skill, and what your priorities are. You might be after a more fulfilling job, a higher paycheck, or just pursuing a personal interest. Clarify what that goal is. It’ll serve as your motivation, which you need at the earliest stages of going back to school and picking up a new skill.
2. Do Your Research
Before you commit to an education, read all you can about the field you’re trying to break into. Talk to people who are already working in a role you’d like to land (LinkedIn is a great way to find professionals with specific job titles). Make sure you’ll truly feel happy, fulfilled, and challenged.
3. Be Patient with Yourself
Learning a new set of skills is frustrating for anyone. There will be times that you’ll question your decision, and maybe even experience some self-doubt. So remember to be patient and allow yourself to make mistakes, ask questions, learn, and grow.
4. Find A Mentor
A professional mentor is important for anyone who’s going back to school. So choose a program that matches you with a personal mentor who will meet with you one-on-one, or come up with a gameplan to find your own mentor.
5. Start Small
A career shift in your 50's might sound intimidating, so start by taking small steps forward before committing fully. Try some online tutorials or short, bite-sized courses before you enroll in a full-fledged program. When you graduate, apply for volunteer roles, entry-level positions or internships.
You might feel like you're starting back at square one, but you'll quickly move on to bigger and better positions as employers recognize your professionalism and dedication.
Take The Leap for A New Career
There are only so many pro/con lists you can make. Once you’ve debated every option and you think you know what you want, dive in head first.
Our recommendation? Choose an online bootcamp where you’ll have the opportunity to work with a professional mentor who can help you master the material, and ultimately reach your career goals.
Regardless of your decision, you’re doing the right thing by setting your sights high and considering every option. And whether you’re eyeing a new career, honing a skill set, or transforming a personal passion into an income, we’re here to help you reach that next big goal.
Is it too late to go back to school at 50?
Absolutely not. Many people in their 50’s and 60’s have chosen to pursue a passion or career that has always captured their interest. You’re taking a relatively small risk to reach your goals; the bigger risk is to let an opportunity pass you by.
Should I start a degree at 50?
While it may ultimately be worthwhile for you to earn a degree in your 50’s, you should explore other options first. Alternative education pathways, like online bootcamps, offer more flexible and affordable ways to get into a new career.
Is it worth it to go back to school at 50?
If you have an end goal in mind that’s motivating you, then yes: it’s worthwhile to go back to school and learn a new skill, even in your 50’s.