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Going back to school at 30 or 40: Is it worth it for single moms?

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If you’re a single mom who wants to start a new career and make more money, going back to school at 30 or 40 is one way to do it. However, it’s not the only way to initiate a successful career switch.

Before you start hitting the books, ask yourself: 

  • Will a degree help me get hired in my chosen field?
  • Is there another similar career that doesn’t require a degree?
  • How will I pay for school?
  • How will I find time to work and support my family?
  • Who will take care of my kids while I’m in class?

We’ll help you answer these questions and more about going back to school as a single mom: 

Why do you want to go back to school?

A woman studying at a desk. Going back to school at 30 or 40: Is it worth it for single moms? Check it out.

Do you want to make more money? Find a more fulfilling job? Have a more flexible schedule? Work from home?

Is going back to school the only or best way to get what you want? 

Cindi Chanin, founder and director at Rainbow EDU Consulting and Tutoring1 in Santa Monica, Calif., who recently worked in the Admissions Departments for Yale and USC, says it’s important to get to the root of why you want to go back to school to determine if it’s actually worth it. 

She recommends taking online assessments and personality tests like those offered on SkillsArena2 to learn more about which fields may be the best fit for you and the skills you’ll need to get a job. 

“Professional services can also help current and prospective students reassess their career, interests, and skill set, while figuring out a trajectory that’s going to be valuable for them in terms of return on investment (ROI),” Chanin says. 

Speaking of ROI, one way to determine if it makes sense for you to go back to school is to calculate your potential salary increase vs. the cost of obtaining an education. Chanin recommends using this equation:

  1. Anticipated salary divided by the total cost of tuition
  2. Multiply by 100

If you attend school for $50,000 and your starting salary afterward is $60,000, your ROI would be 120%. 

Chanin says an ROI of more than 100% is advisable since it means you’ll be earning more than what you invested to go back to school. 

“However, taking out an $80,000 loan for a Ph.D. program in liberal arts is not recommended, since the salaries coming out of that program will not justify the cost of your degree,” Chanin says. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,3 the average starting salary for a liberal arts career is $50,000 (62.5% ROI). 

One alternative to getting a 2- or 4-year degree is to obtain a certification that pays well.

If your goal is to make more money, you’d be surprised at how many jobs pay well without a degree

We also put together a list of the best jobs for single moms and side hustles for single moms.

If you’ve determined that going back to school is the right choice for you, getting a degree online may be a more flexible option than enrolling in a traditional on-campus program. 

Going back to school at 30

According to the National Center for Education Statistics,4 nearly half of all U.S. students enrolled in colleges and universities are over 25. At least 22% of undergraduate students are also raising children.5

Learn more about free and affordable child care, after-school care and preschool.

Is 30 too old for college?

No — 30 is not too old for college, as long as your prospective career is worth the time, money, and hassle of going back to school as a working adult. Considering the average U.S. retirement age is 64,4 if you go back to school in your 30s, you likely still have about 30 more years to work in your chosen career. 

Is it worth it to go back to school at 30?

Think about whether you’d be happy and financially secure in your current career for the next 30 years. If the answer is no, it may be worth going back to school in your 30s. 

Of course, money is a major determining factor in whether or not you can go back to school. If you can’t afford college tuition, consider other high-paying careers that don’t require a college degree, including these six-figure jobs.

Hear from real people who went back to school in their 30s: 

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Going back to school at 30: Best careers

These are some high-paying careers that may be worth going back to school for, though some you may be able to get with just a certification: 

Financial advisor

A woman encoding on her laptop while checking her phone. Going back to school at 30 or 40: Is it worth it for single moms? Find out here.

Salary potential:  $81,650 to $154,271 per year

Education requirements: 4-year degree, Certified Financial Planner certification

Financial advisors work with clients one-on-one to help them manage their finances. Common services include investment advice, estate planning, tax filing, and retirement planning. 

To become a financial advisor, it helps to have a degree in finance or accounting. You will also need to take classes and earn a certification to earn the title of Certified Financial Planner (CFP). To offer investment advice to clients, you will also need to pass a Series 63 and Series 65 exam. 

Human resources

A woman holding a file and smiling to a man. Going back to school at 30 or 40: Is it worth it for single moms? Here's the answer.

Salary potential: $80,500+

Education requirements: 4-year degree or Master’s Degree in Human Resources

There are several opportunities in human resources, ranging from a Recruiter or Employment Specialist to a Human Resources Manager or Employee Relations Manager. 

While you can earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in HR, there are also several certifications you can earn to boost your earning potential in this field. 

The HR Certification Institute and The Society for Human Resource Management are two popular places to obtain HR certifications.

Graphic designer

Salary potential: $56,251 to $94,106 depending on experience

Education requirements: A degree in design is helpful but not required to start a career in graphic design. Certifications and hands-on experience are also helpful.

Graphic designers create visual artwork and effects, including:

  • Logos
  • Website designs
  • Advertisements
  • Brochures
  • Book covers
  • Magazines

To become a graphic designer, you may want to take a few college courses or work toward becoming certified with certain software vendors. For example, you could earn your Adobe Photoshop Certification online for about $150. 

Going back to school at 40

The idea of going back to school at 40 can be daunting, but many college and university programs have flexible options designed for working adults.

Is 40 too old for college?

According to a recent Indeed.com survey, the average person switches careers at age 39. So no, 40 is not too old for college, as long as the career you’re seeking is worth the money and time it will take to earn a degree. 

Is it worth it to go back to school at 40?

Though you may have less time to “climb the ladder” in your chosen field, going back to school may be worth it if you choose a career with opportunities for quick growth or fields that are in high demand. 

Here’s what real people who went back to school in their 40s had to say: 

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Going back to school at 40: Best careers

Information security analyst

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Salary potential: $102,600

Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree in computer and information technology or a related field

An information security analyst, also known as a cyber security analyst, is someone who monitors networks for security breaches and investigates if one occurs. This role may involve using different software systems like firewalls and data encryption programs to protect users’ private information online. 

Working as an analyst in the tech field can also provide valuable experience, as will obtaining certifications in cyber security. 

Nursing

A Chinese nurse inserting an IV. Going back to school at 30 or 40: Is it worth it for single moms? Read here.

Salary potential: $43.18 per hour or $92,147 per year

Education requirements: Attend an accredited nursing program and pass the licensing test.

Nursing is a field that’s always in demand. After obtaining your license, additional certifications are optional but may help increase your employment options and salary.

Real estate

A woman explaining what's written on a document to a couple. Going back to school at 30 or 40: Is it worth it for single moms? Learn more here.

Salary potential: $96,629

Education requirements: Attend real estate training program and pass licensing exam (requirements vary by state)

Going back to school doesn’t have to mean attending a 2- or 4-year college program. There are several jobs in real estate, including administrative work, real estate marketing, and even working as an agent or broker. Agents get paid mostly through commissions, and success in this field heavily depends on what you put into it. 

You can obtain a real estate license in just a few months. Requirements vary by state, but you will need to complete a certain number of hours in coursework and pass a state licensing exam to get started.  

It’s also important to have a healthy savings in place if you become an agent, since it might take a while to make your first sale. 

What is it like for a single mom going back to school?

Going back to school can be a major adjustment, especially for single moms. If you’re wondering how moms juggle work, kids, the household, and school, they often don’t do it alone or without a clear plan.

Here’s what some moms on Reddit have to say about going back to school:

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Student parents need soft skills

To successfully go back to school in your 30s or 40s, Chanin says single moms have to have the following “soft skills” and arrangements in place: 

  • Time management skills: “It’s important to be able to prioritize because not everything can be top priority.” Chanin recommends creating a consistent schedule that includes dedicated study time, work, child care, and personal time. She suggests using planning tools, like digital or physical planners/calendars and reminder or project management apps to help keep track of deadlines and responsibilities.
  • Money management: Estimate your costs per semester or class, and research scholarships, financial aid, and grant opportunities. Then, factor this into your budget. You may also want to cut back on certain expenses while you’re in school to free up money. Chanin adds that aside from scholarships, Employer Tuition Reimbursement can be a viable option if it’s available to you. You can check to see if your employer offers tuition reimbursement or partners with any specific colleges that can provide discounted tuition rates. 

The Wealthysinglemommy Single Mon grant gives $500 monthly to a self-motivated single mom struggling with money, health, stress, child care, illness or loneliness — no strings attached. 

Qualifications are simple:

1. You're a single mom.

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  • Child care: If possible, schedule classes or homework while your kids are in daycare or at school. Otherwise, you may need to get a babysitter or see if family and friends can help with child care.
  • Self-motivation and self-discipline: You’ll need a lot of self-motivation and discipline as a returning student in order to stay on track. Plan your weekly schedule ahead of time and limit distractions so you can stay on top of your coursework.
  • Flexibility: Most single moms still need to work while going to school, so consider online classes, evening classes, Saturday classes, or even fully online degrees for more flexibility. 
  • Support/resources: Whether your circle includes family, friends, or other moms in your area, everyone needs a circle of support to lean on in times of need. Some schools even have a college parent support group and offer information on community resources and programs such as child care assistance, tutoring, and career counseling. If you’re thinking about going back to school, start building your support system and letting others know how you might need them to help.

Find single-mom resources in every state:

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Wyoming

FAQs about going back to school as a single mom

What are some reasons I shouldn’t be going back to school?

If you cannot financially support your family while you go back to school, you may want to consider another career that doesn’t require a degree. 

Likewise, if going to school would add a lot of stress in terms of planning your schedule or having adequate child care and support, you may want to revisit the idea at a better time in the future.

Will going back to school as an adult help my finances?

It depends heavily on your unique situation and career prospects. Ideally, you want to pursue a program or career that allows you to start making money right away and will result in limited (or no) debt. Low-cost, high-earning jobs are the best options.

Should I go back to college in-person or online?

Going to school online is a more flexible option, but both types of schooling come with pros and cons. In-person classes can be more hands-on and allow you to receive more direct help from the instructor. However, online classes can save you time and possibly money since you don’t have to commute to the classroom. 

Do I need to go back to school full-time?

Unless you have a large amount of money saved, you’ll likely need to work while attending school. That can make being a full-time student nearly impossible. You will likely need to balance work with part-time classes, so it may take a little longer to get your degree, license, or certification.

Bottom line: Is going back to school worth it?

There are several solid career options for single moms in their 30s and 40s looking to go back to school. Keep in mind that not all new careers require a college degree, so “returning to school” may look different for each person depending on the career track you choose. 

Consider one of these alternative careers that doesn’t require a degree: 

If you’re going to go back to school, start researching the program you’re interested in and the career prospects. Plan out your finances so that you can either start saving up for courses in advance, get on a payment plan, or secure other funding options like scholarships.


SOURCES

  1. Rainbow EDU Consulting and Tutoring. https://rainboweduconsulting.com/
  2. Skills Arena. https://skillsarena.com/
  3. “Field of degree: Liberal arts.” Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/field-of-degree/liberal-arts/liberal-arts-field-of-degree.htm
  4. “It's back-to-school time—what do we know about our nation’s students and schools?” 2023. National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372
  5. “Evaluating the Role of Campus Child Care in Student Parent Success.” October 2021. IWPR. chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Evaluating-the-Role-of-Campus-Child-Care_FINAL.pdf

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