Whenever one of my fellow students finds out that I’m 31 years old, the first question they always ask, after saying I don’t look a day past 25, is, “What made you decide to go back to school?”
I never know how to give a proper answer that doesn’t turn into an uncomfortably personal hour-long conversation about every mistake I’ve ever made. What I usually do is just smile and say, “I had a nightmare about myself as a 40-year-old man and signed up for community college the next day.”
That isn’t exactly how it happened, but not that far from the truth. In all seriousness, I shudder to think where I would be right now if I didn’t go back to school.
The numbers say I’m far from unique in this regard. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, college students aged 25 and older currently make up about 35% of the entire higher education population.
The reasons why people decide to go back to school are fairly obvious. Years of economic recession, automation and overseas manufacturing have made higher education a growing necessity.
My decision to go back to school came out of a growing realization that the sun was starting to set on my youth and I had no viable career options whatsoever. I knew if I didn’t have some kind of greater direction or purpose, my life would not have a happy ending.
Four years later, I’m shocked at the amount of change and personal growth I’ve experienced. Learning life principles like personal accountability, perseverance and true grit have been just as invaluable as anything I’ve learned from a book or lecture.
School isn’t for everyone, but I believe too many people take the decision not to pursue higher education far too lightly. It’s not just about getting a better job; school teaches people to delay gratification and work towards a long term goal. This is absolutely what distinguishes adults from children.
What really drove this home for me was when I went to my 10-year high school reunion a few years back. I was completely blown away by how many former friends and peers were still living like it was the senior year of high school.
In this day and age where a record number of adult children are living at home, I think we as a society need to revise how we encourage children to pursue higher education. We need to do better than just say “you’ll make more money.”
If someone sat me down 10 years ago and really explained that school would give me the confidence and determination to do anything if I work hard enough, I truly believe it would have saved me countless wasted years.