Is “getting a degree” on your New Year’s resolution list for 2020? It’s never been easier for adult learners to return to school than it is right now. Distance learning via online degree programs has made it possible for working professionals and those with families to pursue advanced degrees without travel, without room and board costs, and without leaving the comfort of their homes.
The distance-learning delivery technology is constantly improving, and most employers view online degrees to be just as credible as those earned in campus-based programs. Consequently, adult learners (those between the ages of 25 and 34) are enrolling in college in record numbers. EAB projects that by 2022, the number of students in this age group “will increase by 21 percentage points (with more than twice as much growth in master’s degree enrollment than bachelor’s).”
If you’ve been toying with the idea of going back to school, here are seven signs that indicate 2020 might be the year for you.
1. You love learning.
Pursuing an online degree is a huge commitment, and the coursework typically involves more self-directed learning than courses offered in a campus setting. To handle the rigors of online school, you need self-discipline, a sense of purpose, and a true love of learning for learning’s sake.
Marc Smithers, a student in ACU Online’s Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership program, admits that his “deep love for learning and an abiding curiosity in the world” are two reasons he enrolled in the program’s Higher Education concentration. It’s a perfect fit for this passionate learner, who for the last 10 years has served as Assistant Dean of Students for Residence Life and Programs at Houghton College in New York
2. Your personal life experience has led you to a field you’re truly passionate about.
Many students are inspired to enroll in a specific degree program as a result of powerful personal experiences that ignited a passion to serve others facing similar situations.
Christina Haskell of San Antonio, Texas, expects to graduate from ACU’s online Master of Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) program in the fall of 2020. It was her own struggle with finding help as the spouse of a sex addict that led Christina to return to school. She says of her husband, “He really put me on the path to have a heart for families that are hurting with, or struggling with, sexual addiction.”
Lauren Vader is also a student in ACU’s online MFT program. She credits her autistic future step-son with being a prime source of inspiration, sharing, “I’m engaged, and my step-son is going to be 10 years old. He went through some pretty horrible stuff when he was little. His emotions are a little bit different from any other child that I’ve experienced. And so that really drove me to look further into mental health and how mental health can help people.” It was her own challenges in preparing to join her family with her fiancé’s while taking on the role of co-parent to his son that fueled a desire in Lauren to help make the process easier for other people in her situation.
3. You want to change careers and need a degree to do it.
Maybe you’re returning to school to pursue a new career path that lets you leverage your current expertise differently. Perhaps you’re seeking a complete career overhaul that immerses you in a field you’re truly passionate about.
Aaron Maleare always thought he’d end up in ministry and maybe follow that with a midlife career change into academia. But a pastoral position in a rural Ontario church put him in contact with kids in the juvenile justice system which made him realize the administrative part of ministry was not where his talents or heart lay.
Aaron shares that working with families in trouble, “helping them have some kind of peace about it—it’s almost like a spark of inspiration just hit me. Like, this is what I really enjoy doing. This is the part of the job that I love. How can I do more of this?” After looking into ACU’s MFT degree program, he knew it would be a really great fit for what he needed. Aaron graduated in May of 2018 and is now pursuing a career as a marriage and family therapist.
4. You’re confident more education will improve your competency in your current job.
Many online learners are already working in their chosen career fields. Returning to school makes them even more valuable employees and more accomplished professionals.
Swiss-born Demian Gass, currently living in the capital city of Lusaka, Zambia, is enrolled in ACU Online’s Master of Science in Management (MSM) program and part of the MSM-to-MBA bridge program. Demian believes that “the degree will help to strengthen my business acumen and credibility. Furthermore, it will open more doors for me to apply myself in a variety of different business environments.”
Keri Croy, an ACU Online MBA student, was motivated to pursue an MBA from ACU Online to develop her leadership skills in hopes of earning a promotion. Even though Keri still has two classes remaining before graduation in May, she has already been promoted from payroll specialist to payroll manager at her school district. Keri is thrilled to report that “The pay increase I’m receiving is actually going to cover the cost of my entire master’s within its first year. I’m already seeing the rewards of it.”
5. Getting that degree has been a decades-long dream.
“Life happens” often sums up the reason that people don’t continue with education after high school or their undergraduate years. Online degree programs are the great equalizers for those considering going back to school.
Susie Brown, who graduated from nursing school in 1976, is a student in ACU’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. She explains, “It’s always been my dream. I’ve always wanted to do this. A lot of my colleagues are already finished.” But she feared her age might be an obstacle. “I kind of felt like I was old, ‘cause I’m 65. I felt like it was going to be a struggle because I’ve been out of school.”
Dawn Parker, office manager for ACU Online, is enrolled in ACU Online’s B.S. in Psychology program. Although Dawn studied business at the Abilene campus in the early 1980s, she dropped out and got busy with a corporate job and raising a family. But Dawn had always wanted to finish her bachelor’s, and a series of fortuitous events made that a possibility for her at age 58.
6. You’ve got a supportive network in place encouraging you to go for it.
Getting a degree is usually not a solo effort. Successful candidates are quick to praise spouses, kids, friends, and employers for the invaluable support they provide while pursuing higher education.
ACU alum Andrew Ritchie is a youth minister at Cinco Ranch Church of Christ in Katy, Texas, who’s currently enrolled in the online Master of Arts in Christian Ministry degree program. Andrew’s church is behind him 100%. “Our money is pretty tight, but my leadership still wanted to make sure that they gave me an amount of money every year to pay towards my books as a way of encouraging me to get that further training. Also, they’ve been totally flexible with any residencies I need to attend,” he shares.
7. The thought of learning from industry leaders and scholars sets you afire.
Retired firefighter and prospective theology professor Andrew Jones is currently tackling two graduate programs: ACU’s online Master of Divinity (M.Div.) and the residential Master of Arts in Theology (MAT) programs. He cites the ACU faculty as a primary motivating factor in his decision to enroll.
Andrew says, “Frankly, a lot of the professors—I read their books. I can think of three or four of them now whose books I have on my desk. ACU has a huge number of people on faculty that I would love to interact with and love to meet, want to take classes from and learn under. The quality of staff is just amazing.”