A college degree remains one of the most valuable investments, boasting an incredibly high return on investment. Bachelor’s degree holders in 2019 had median weekly earnings of $1,248 compared to $746 for those with just a high school diploma and $833 for those with some college experience. In just a few years, and sometimes a lot less if you choose the right school and the right degree, your total earnings will greatly exceed the average cost of a degree.
If you’re considering going back to college, you might already know about the potential benefits. But like most Americans, you may feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities you already have, reluctant to add something else to a teetering pile of obligations.
The good news is that you can get a college degree without abandoning the rest of your life. In fact, going back to school may take less time than you think—both in terms of the daily time commitment needed to study and the length of time it takes to get your degree. Here’s how to assess whether you can carve out space in your schedule to go back to school.
How Much Time Do You Need to Go Back to School?
So how much time do you really need to go back to college? You need to look at two independent factors: the length of time until graduation and the daily time commitment.
Most adult learners are primarily concerned with how much school will eat into their daily schedule. They have full-time jobs, families, and sometimes long commutes. The good news is that school doesn’t have to take a lot of time. At SNU, students can take classes entirely online. If you prefer a more traditional experience, attend college just one night a week. It’s a small shift in your schedule that can still quickly get you from here to where you hope to be. If you can carve out a little time here and there to study—even if it’s only in 15-minute time blocks—you can excel at your classes, graduate quickly, and embark on the path ahead.
Colleges like SNU that cater to adult learners specialize in shortening the timeline from enrollment to graduation. No single time commitment applies to every student. To determine how long you’ll need, look at factors such as:
- How many transfer credits you bring with you. Even if they’re very old, transfers from accredited institutions will likely reduce the time it takes to graduate.
- Prior learning. Some schools offer credit for prior learning, such as employer training, real-world experience, and military service. SNU’s prior learning assessment can earn you up to a year of course credit toward your undergraduate degree for free.
- The number of credits required for the program you choose. You can reduce your total time investment by choosing a degree toward which you have already taken classes. For example, if your first college experience had you taking lots of STEM classes, a degree with a similar focus might be a better fit than a switch to the humanities.
The Long-Term Time Savings of a College Degree
Going to college will almost inevitably mean you’ll have less time than you do now. But your investment may earn you more time in the future. With a degree, you’ll have more job options available. Employers may be more willing to compete for you, especially if you graduate with an in-demand degree. That gives you the freedom to maximize your own time by:
- Negotiating to work from home. Remote workers enjoy 105 extra hours of leisure time each year.
- Choosing a job that’s closer to your home. When more jobs are available, you’re more likely to find a role that doesn’t require a long and exhausting commute.
- Working for yourself. Self-employment offers a chance to control your own schedule. Master a skill in college, then turn it into a lucrative business.
- Making more money. More money often means more time because you can outsource tasks to people you pay. Hire a babysitter for date night. Invest in a house cleaner. Quit wrestling your dog into the bathtub, and hire a groomer instead. A better job opens the door to fewer frustrating tasks and more meaningful time to yourself.
How to Save Time When Going Back to College
When you have a lot on your plate, it might feel like there’s no way you could possibly squeeze in more. But time is a lot like money; it’s a finite resource, and if you’re more mindful of where and how you spend it, you just might find you have more of it. A few simple strategies can help you find more time, even if you feel like you don’t have it:
- Pay attention to how you spend your time. What tasks eat into your schedule? When do you waste time? When are you most efficient?
- Are there options for effective multitasking? It’s unwise to try to do two demanding tasks at once. But can you clean while sitting on hold with the power company or cook while participating in a conference call?
- Would more help from others free up more space in your schedule? Are your spouse and kids doing their fair share around the house?
- Would more rest and a better routine help you feel more energized and motivated?
- Make a daily schedule and stick to it. This helps you set reasonable goals and also alerts you to any problems with how you use your time.
Do You Have Enough Time to Go Back to College?
So do you really have enough time to go back to college? The answer is unique to you. No one else can tell you whether college is the right choice. The research, however, is clear that college can improve your life—not just your job prospects.
Some questions to weigh include:
- Do I have an hour or two of extra time each week? Could I carve out an hour or so a day to study?
- Would online learning make it easier for me to go back to college?
- Do I have access to childcare that might free up some time?
- Do I anticipate having more time at some point in the near future?
- Am I making the best possible use of my time now? Could I eliminate some time-wasters and have more time?
Why You Need to Consider Going Back to College
Fitting school into an already busy schedule isn't always easy. But sacrificing a little bit of time today, will make a big difference for your future. You already know that going back to college can help you get a better job and higher pay. But that’s far from the only reason to take the plunge. Some other key benefits include:
- Credit for knowledge you already have. Maybe you’re an avid reader, volunteer for an organization, or served in the military. You may have exceptional skills gained through experience. Without a college degree, your employer might not take that experience seriously.
- Breaking through career ceilings. At many workplaces, a college degree is a prerequisite to ascending the career ladder, especially if you seek a position in management.
- A higher quality of life. A college degree correlates with an assortment of life improvements. People with degrees live longer, are less likely to get divorced, and even report being happier. This may be because a degree opens new doors, reduces financial stress, and can gain you the respect you deserve.
- A career with purpose. You spend at least a third of your day at work. Make sure you’re enjoying this time by choosing a job that matters. Your bachelor’s degree can clear new paths.
- Job security. College graduates have lower rates of unemployment. In a bad economy, the disparity between graduates and non-graduates comes into even starker relief. Even 10 years after the end of the Great Recession, less educated workers had not recovered, though degree holders had bounced back, according to a Brookings Institution report. A degree is your ticket to job stability, especially when the economy slows.
How SNU Helps
SNU believes in the power of every student to change the world. That power ignites when you change your own life. We specialize in helping adult learners complete their degrees. Our innovative programs allow you to learn on your own terms. Our cohort model builds your professional network by placing you with a cohort of peers who understand the challenges of returning to school. Choose the schedule that works for you, learning either online or with just a single nightly commitment each week.
We are here for you every step of the way, with an innovative VETS Center for veteran students, a compassionate chaplain, and a financial aid office that can help you compare and understand your college funding options. For more tips and tricks for mastering the delicate time-juggling balance that a return to school demands, check out our infographic, Time Management Tips for Overloaded Adult Students.