Going Back and Moving Forward—
Returning to School as an Adult
How to choose the best adult degree program for you
By Lisa M. Morana
Director, USF Sacramento Campus
Books—check, backpack—check, car keys—say what?
Going back to school is not just for children anymore.
If the closest you've come to a college campus in the last 10 years is a highway
directional sign, you may be surprised to learn that adults are returning to school in record
numbers to finish a Bachelor’s degree or earn a Master’s degree with both job advancement
and personal fulfillment in mind.
If you've been putting off continuing your education because you think you are too
busy, too broke or too old, you'll find plenty of other adults cracking the books in traditional
and non-traditional college programs. Believe it or not, nearly half of all college students are
now over age twenty-five, according to the College Board's Office of Adult Learning.
Not only are adult learners typically working full-time, they often have children and
other heavy demands on their time and attention. The average adult student is now a 34-year-
old who works full-time and needs a degree to enhance his or her career options.
Combining schoolwork with other obligations may seem difficult, but there are a
multitude of choices for Sacramento area adults who want to complete a Bachelor's degree or
earn a Master's or Doctorate—while they work. This report is intended to help you choose the
right school and the right program so you will know your time and money will be well spent.
Motivation—Why Go Back to School
Why should you take the time to complete your degree when you are already
employed and busy with work and personal responsibilities? It's a good question. Many
people feel they have gotten along well without that "piece of paper" but if you check the want
ads or consult with your personnel office, you will find that most professional and
administrative positions now require at least a Bachelor's if not a Master's degree. Employees
who have years of on the job experience are finding that these degree requirements are not
just for the new kid on the block either. Many adults return to college after their career
advancement has been stalled by the lack of a degree and they’ve tired of watching others with
less experience but more education leapfrog over them.
When we say “Learn more, Earn more” we’re not just tooting the horn for higher
education. Take a look at the Federal government’s Occupational Outlook (available in
libraries or on the web) and you will see that the more education you have, the more money
you earn per year and over your lifetime. Even if you are planning to retire in ten years, if
your retirement pay is based on your highest earning years, you too may want to think about
the benefit of earning a degree.
Why You Haven’t—Yet
Many people know they want to finish their degree or earn a higher degree but they
don’t know where to start in making a decision about returning to school as an adult. Choices
are great but, like going to the supermarket, too many choices can be confusing. Since
education is much more expensive than toothpaste, many people simply take no action rather
than risk making the wrong decision. Read on to learn about your choices and how to know
which choice is right for you.
Ten Steps to Choosing the Best Adult Degree Program for You
Most adult Bachelor’s degree completion programs are offered by private colleges
and universities. These same institutions also offer Master’s degrees designed for working
adults. The appeal of these programs is that they can be completed while you continue to
work and earn. They are designed for the working adult’s schedule and can be completed
years faster than if you attend community college and then a state university taking one or
two courses each semester. Because you complete your degree sooner, you reap the benefits
of a degree sooner—more job opportunities with higher pay.
You are probably familiar with the range of adult degree choices in Sacramento
including the University of San Francisco, Chapman University College, St. Mary’s College
of California, National University, Golden Gate University and the University of Phoenix to
name a few, but how do you choose the right school and program for you?
1. First, think about what you like to do and research what kind of careers require
those kinds of skills. Once you know a possible career path, you can narrow down
the type of program you want to take and investigate only the schools that have
2. Decide what type of learning format will work best for you. You can choose from
schools that allow you to take courses of your choice at your own pace, taking
more or fewer classes depending on your work schedule; schools that have set
programs and guaranteed classes that allow you to complete your studies in a set
timeframe or take on line classes without leaving home. Each school has different
offerings so, once you know what will work best for your personality and lifestyle,
you can narrow your choices to those schools that meet your requirements.
3. Most adult programs in the Sacramento area have the all-important REGIONAL
ACCREDITATION but you need to be sure. Ask the school what their regional
accreditation is. Schools can have many accreditations but regional accreditation is
critical because it means work you take there will transfer to other regionally
accredited schools. California schools should be accredited by the Western
Association of Schools and Colleges. Schools headquartered outside of California
may have a different regional accreditation such as the North Central Association
of Schools and Colleges.
4. So now you have a short list of schools that are regionally accredited and have the
program and the format you want. Now it’s time to ask around about the school.
Ask your family, friends, and co-workers. Ask your employer and your HR
department and anyone else you can think of about the schools you are
considering. Remember, reputation counts so where you earn your degree is a
reflection on you. If a school you are considering is poorly perceived by your
“committee,” then you may want to scratch it from your list.
5. Make an appointment to visit the schools you are considering. All schools have
regular open houses or information sessions. Most also offer free academic
advising. Get a feel for the environment. Are the classrooms comfortable and
well-appointed with audio visual equipment? Is there a library? Are there
computers available for student use? Is there a break room or place nearby to get
something to eat?
6. Does the staff appear professional? Do they give you clear and specific answers to
your questions? Do they create a customized degree plan for you that discloses all
the courses you will need to take to get your degree, the time it will take and all the
charges you can expect to earn your degree or do they speak in generalities?
7. Are you offered the opportunity to talk with current students, alumni or to visit a
8. Are you given knowledgable help obtaining grants, scholarships and loans?
9. Ask what kind of ongoing support is provided during your program including
career development assistance.
10. Finally consider price. Most people put price at the top of the list but the cost of a
program is only one consideration in making a decision and should only be
considered after you have answered questions 1-9. Like a cheap piece of clothing,
a low cost education may not serve you well in the long term. Consider price only
after having done your research and you will be able to make a decision based on
value—that is—what you get in return for your money. You may find a program
costs more, because you get more, and that may be worth it to you.
We at the Sacramento Campus of the University of San Francisco hope this report
has helped guide you in making the important decision of which school or program to choose
when you are ready to return to school as an adult.
USF offers Bachelor’s completion and Master’s degree programs for working adults.
We will be happy to meet with you if you would like to learn more about our educational
opportunities. Call 916.920.0157 to attend a Learn more, Earn more Seminar or for a personal
degree planning appointment.
Going back to school as an adult can be a surprisingly fulfilling experience, allowing
you to move forward in your personal and professional life. Achieving this long postponed
goal will bring the benefits of increased self-esteem and wider career options. If completing
your education is a dream that you've been postponing, then I encourage you to start doing
your homework now!
Lisa M. Morana is director of the Sacramento Campus of the University of San Francisco,
2180 Harvard St., Suite 375. (916) 920-0157. The nationally ranked university offers
bachelor's and master's evening degree programs for working adults in Sacramento.