Nowadays, more and more people decide to return to academia relatively late in life, after a couple of years (even a decade) of hiatus building a professional career, and eventually getting solid financial resources to support further studies over the next several years.
Switching life’s tone from daily demanding deadlines of a non-academic profession to the limitations, and sometimes completely different standards, of academic work requires a lot of time and patience and also, when necessary, the support of a coach who can help make a smooth transition.
But before the final decision is made, there are five main issues, in my opinion, that should be considered before openly applying for a PhD or MA.
I’m too old to go back to school. Many decide to have a period of non-stop learning in their lives, that may cover 10 years of life, even more, finishing the entire academic cycle at around 28, but it does not mean that this is the limit of academic achievement. Recent academic studies outline that the more you use your brain the better for permanent development and improvement of its functions. A PhD at 50+ and even later? Yes, it is possible, and no one will make fun of you!
The costs are too high. Late in your professional life, there might be some limitations regarding the possibility to apply for a grant to support your studies. On the other hand, when you start your academic career early in life, there are equal financial challenges, meaning that you need to apply for loans that you will pay for many years after you finish your degree. When you are working, using your savings to support an academic career can be much cheaper, and healthier than starting your professional career with a huge debt for your long years of study.
It’s not possible to add another ball to juggle besides career and family. Let’s be honest and not dream dangerously: being torn between family and career, especially if you don’t have a constant family support and plenty of money, is a very stressful experience. Dealing with the pressures of exams and serious research that should be done often in libraries and for sure in quiet is not easy, either. Thus, carefully planning the right time to return to the academia is very important. When you are exploring the best ways to get back to learning, use your time to read books of interest or to get get in touch with a coach that can guide your next steps. It is hard, indeed, but not impossible.
I can’t bridge the knowledge hiatus from the domain of study. Scientific research is advancing dramatically, and only a couple of months of disconnection will mean that one misses several important developments in the academic domain. What about someone going back after many years? The good news is that the technical support offered by the Internet allows instant connection and the possibility to access and read many of the academic materials from the comfort of home. Once one has decided to return to academia, most likely will need some academic guidance to help organize the bibliography and indicate what the most important lectures are,
It is too late to learn how to write properly. Working as an editor and academic coach for a while, I found that the problem of writing skills was one of the most frequent and most serious. Good writing is more than the art of putting some words together; it has to deal with the proper organization of the material studied and read, the proper use of the reference system and the problem of expressing one’s own ideas. As the moment to switch back to academia is rarely a matter of spontaneous decision, and due to the various bureaucratic requirements, it will take time. This waiting time can be wisely used for reading more about academic writing and also for taking some online classes – some of them free – on academic writing.
Those challenges are only the beginning. But once one realizes that nothing really important will occur without effort, getting mentally ready to cope with the problems increases the chances of success.