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Going Back To School After 30? Here Are 5 Things To Consider

You can thrive and get your intellectual mojo back after taking a break to work.

Workin' Girl

I never, in a million years, thought I'd ever go back to school. I attended Hampton University (the real HU) and after four years of college---and however many years in elementary, middle, and high schools--- I was through with being a student. Though I had a wonderful undergraduate experience full of fun, exploration, and growth, I couldn't wait to get my adult on and start earning money at a full-time job.

After graduating from college, I knew a master's degree just wasn't needed. My mentor, a journalist and editor who worked for The New York Times, had a long, successful career and accomplished great things through grit and experience. Many of the journalists I admired did not have master's degrees, and I never had an issue getting jobs with just a bachelor's degree. I always thought that pursuing an advanced degree was something that only benefited those interested in teaching or becoming a C-suite executive.

Fast-forward about 15 years: I'm over 30, and I've worked for top publishing companies. I've launched a semi-successful consulting business. I've seen failure and halted the business. I've gone back into the workforce, traveled the world freelancing, and worked odd jobs in between. (Hey, no shame here. It's called taking risks and living life.)

After all of that, I hit a ceiling in terms of fulfillment, and I wondered what's next. I even lost my enthusiasm for journalism and found myself in a bit of mental rut. One day, I saw my sister---a savvy single mom and Navy veteran---and my mom---a 50-something pastor and government professional---finishing their final papers for their online graduate-degree programs. The light bulb in my head went crazy and the urge to follow in their footsteps kept me up at night. I knew then that I had to apply to a school. I did just that, got in, and boom, I became a student---again.

If you're considering going back to school after being in the workforce, taking a break for parenting, or surviving whatever life has thrown at you, be encouraged by these tips and go for it!

1. Recognize The Salary And Promotions Benefits

Going back to school led me to revisit the stats on graduate degrees and career advancement. Statistics show that getting an advanced degree in fields including business, technology and healthcare can lead to a increase in salary to the tune of more than $23,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Also, after doing a bit more research (ie stalking a few LinkedIn pages of top media professionals), I noticed that most of the them actually have advanced degrees and instead of starting as editorial assistants, they were already associate editors and managers.

Let's also think about this in a different way: Today, you're not limited to the traditional majors for a graduate degree. There are all sorts of programs that could benefit your career advancement. For example, you could pursue a master's degree in organizational leadership (MAOL) versus the MBA if that's more of a fit for your career plans. Try a master's degree in a related field or a program that includes courses that will give you specialized knowledge related to your industry. If you keep these things in mind, you'll remain motivated knowing the potential for return on your time and financial investment.

2. Get With The (Online) Program

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With the advent of online options from accredited schools, as well as programs that cater to seasoned professionals, I really had no excuse not to pursue an advanced degree. In the past, online programs were considered nontraditional, and when you'd mention them, people would frown wondering about credibility and educational quality. Today, a third of all students take online courses, and even Ivy League schools---including Harvard and Columbia---offer online options. My program allows me to complete studies from anywhere in the world, and I set my own schedule. There are deadlines, of course, but it's not like when I was in undergrad, where you had a set time and day to go to class and were limited to that. I typically block out time to study and complete coursework just like I do for consulting, fitness, or a hair appointment. The key is to be super-mindful of how I spend my time and really commit certain hours of the day to learning and interacting with my professors and global community of classmates.

3. Find the Financial Aid Plug

I never really paid attention to the fact that jobs actually do offer education-related benefits. Companies including Walmart, PepsiCo and Bank of America offer tuition reimbursement. Ask your manager or HR professional about those education-related benefits that you may have ignored. Consider even applying for jobs at universities that offer tuition reimbursement, remission or employee discounts.

Many universities have corporate partnerships with companies where they offer tuition discounts, so don't be afraid to ask around and do your research.

Scholarships aren't just for high school valedictorians. There are actually options for working adults returning to school to gain knowledge for fields or specialties that are in high demand such as cybersecurity. You may be eligible for scholarships based on your work experience, your volunteer activities, or your involvement in nonprofits or religious organizations. Utilize sites such as FastWeb.com or StudentAid.gov in your search, and tap into your network.

Pay out-of-pocket if you can. Schools offer payment plans where you can make payments throughout the semester. Find creative ways to finance your degree---from side hustles to downsizing in some areas of your spending. Trust me, the sacrifice for two to three years is worth it. If you take on a loan, only accept what you can afford to pay back and start your monthly payments while you're still in school. There's no shame in taking out a loan to reach your goals, but be sure you're taking on debt that you can manage and pay off.

4. Pace Yourself, Sis

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You're not that teenaged, full-time college student with a weekly allowance and time on your hands just to study, party and travel. (Was that just me?) In going back to school, I underestimated the rigors of the program and took on several classes at one time in a rush to graduate in less than two years. Though my first semester was a great experience, it was a bit much in terms of combining my current freelance and consulting workload with schoolwork. If you have a busy schedule and are already balancing work and family life, maybe start with one or two courses per semester to get your feet wet.

Utilize some sort of calendar app, set alarms, and schedule your study time. If you're in an online program, this is especially important because it's easy to forget that an assignment is due or that you have to log in for a mandatory video lecture. Be kind to yourself in the college journey and know your limits based on your lifestyle and priorities. My life is mine to live, and sometimes, well, life happens. I've found that it's better to take time to do well than to have to re-take courses due to lack of focus and proper attention.

5. Tap Into Those Student Services

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I love the student services my school offers--- everything from tutoring and writing labs to career and mental health counseling. These have been extremely helpful to me as a 30-something-year-old student. I must admit, I initially felt a bit awkward at my age going back to school, almost to the point of self-doubt and fear. I'm not that old but teens and 20-somethings today are doing some amazing things that I've never even thought to do. The scope of technology and its use is much more advanced than it was when I was in undergrad.

Knowing that I have student resources at my fingertips has helped me get over my insecurities.

It's awesome to be able to ask for help in navigating Blackboard or refreshing my APA paper-writing skills. It's also great to be able to just learn from others in the way I hadn't been able to in years. The whole experience has also reminded me that just like a teen or 20-something is new to college and knows all about what's trending today, I have maturity and life experience on my side, so my perspective and contribution is respected and valued. Take advantage of services---many of which are typically included in your tuition cost---that will help you transition into student life and find balance.

Above all else, the invaluable benefits of going back to school mean the most to me. I now have a new sense of discipline and accomplishment that has boosted my self esteem. My re-entry into higher education has also awakened the competitive geek in me who used to fight for an A and loved to talk topics with other very smart people. For me, going back to school also offers new possibilities for becoming a better leader and thinker, and that's worth more than money can buy.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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