Are you considering going back to college after 40? It's not too late. More than 6% of college students in 2019 were 40 or older, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. In this article, we'll address why you might want to go back to school, provide tips for attending college after 40, and discuss the pros and cons of doing so.

Smiling graduate holding a child.
Image source: Getty Images.

Why go back to school as an adult?

Why go back to school as an adult?

Different people will have different primary reasons for wanting to go back to school as an adult. Three of the most common reasons are:

  • You want to fulfill your dream of completing college. Getting a college degree is a personal goal for many people. For people who weren't able to achieve this goal when they were younger, there are still opportunities to check it off the list later in life.
  • You want to advance in your current career. Some positions require a college degree. You might enhance your career advancement opportunities by completing your college education.
  • You want to change careers. It sometimes takes working in a given field for a while to determine it isn't what you want to do. But changing careers when you're 40 or older could require you to obtain a degree suited to the new line of work you're seeking.

Five tips

Tips for going back to school after 40

If you have decided to go back to college after 40, congratulations! Here are a few tips that can help you achieve success:

1. Define your goals.

Arguably the most important thing to do upfront is define your goals. Ask yourself:

  • Why am I going back to college?
  • How much time do I want to take to obtain my college degree?

Be realistic in setting your goals. If you know you'll have to continue working full-time while you're in college, don't plan on finishing your education in the same amount of time that it would take if you weren't working full-time.

2. Find the money you need to go back to college.

Make sure you have the funds required to return to college. If you've built a hefty savings account, you might want to tap it. However, you'll definitely want to keep enough in it to cover any emergencies that might arise.

Savings Account

A savings account is an account that earns interest with a financial institution.

If you have sources of passive income -- for example, income from rental properties or dividends from stocks -- they may be handy in helping pay for college. If you're planning ahead, consider putting money into a 529 plan. Using this approach will allow your earnings to grow tax-free.

529 Plan

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged education investment account you can use to pay for expenses like tuition, fees, and books.

Many people won't already have the money available to go back to college. That doesn't have to be a show-stopper, though.

Check to see if your current employer provides any tuition assistance. Research all of the grants and scholarships that are available. The finance offices of the colleges that you're considering should be able to help with this. You can also look online at websites such as and

Consider applying for a student loan. If you already have student debt, find out if you qualify for student loan forgiveness.

3. Select a college that's a good fit for you.

There are several key factors to consider in selecting a college that’s a good fit for you. These include:

  • Courses and programs offered. Not every college will offer the courses and programs that you need to achieve your goals. Limit your list only to those that do.
  • Work experience credit. Some colleges will offer credit for your experience in the workforce. For example, if you've worked in information technology your entire career, you might be able to receive credit for some courses and not have to take them.
  • Location. If some or all of the courses you'll need to take require you to be in the classroom, location will be of paramount concern. Unless you're willing to move, you'll only want to consider colleges that are within a reasonable driving distance from where you live now. Note, however, that some colleges offer programs that are completely online, making the location a non-issue.
  • Schedule flexibility. Many people who go back to college after 40 will continue working. If you're in this group, you'll want to make sure that the colleges you're considering will offer a schedule allowing you to work while going back to school.
  • Cost. Even if you have saved to go back to college or obtain financial aid to do so, the cost is important. Private colleges usually cost more than public colleges. Also, community colleges can be especially cost-effective.

4. Determine a schedule that's workable for you.

Make sure you don't bite off more than you can chew with a college course schedule that's too heavy. This is particularly applicable if you will continue working either full-time or part-time while you return to college. Online classes that allow you to participate whenever works best for you can be great options for working adults who go back to school.

5. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Ask for help when you need it. Your family or friends might be able to help pick up your kids while you're in class. Fellow students can be a great resource to help you be successful in courses that are difficult. Take advantage of study groups. If you don't understand something in a course you're taking, ask to speak with your instructor.

Pros and cons

Pros and cons of going back to college

As with pretty much everything in life, there are pros and cons to going back to college after 40. They include:

Pros Cons
Potentially increase how much money you make. College can be expensive.
Improve your chances of career advancement. Requires a major commitment of time.
Expand your professional network. College courses can be challenging.

Financial considerations rank at the top of both lists. However, the pro in this case can often outweigh the con. For example, the median earnings in 2021 for individuals with a bachelor's degree was $21,900 higher than the median earnings of people with a high school degree -- and the average annual tuition and fees for an in-state public college in 2022 was close to $10,400.

Related investing topics

Is going back to school right for you?

Just as age is a consideration in asset allocation for retirement, it's a factor in deciding if going back to college is the right move for an individual. Returning to school can definitely be more disruptive to the life of a person who is 40 or older than it is for someone coming right out of high school.

However, going back to college after 40 will be the right choice for many people. It could significantly boost your income. It can open new opportunities. And for some people, obtaining a college degree will allow them to avoid regrets later in life. Whether you're 40 or 80, it's never too late to keep learning.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.