How to Go Back to College at 40

These tips for going back to college at forty (or 50, or 30) are inspired by the Parable of the Lemon Trees. Finding the balance between faith and action is what this parable is all about when you’re figuring out how to go back to college as a mature student.

How to Go Back to College at 40If you don’t know what program to go into, read What Color Is Your Parachute? 2015: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers. Richard Bolles’ most popular job-hunting guide has sold more than 10 million copies, and this edition contains up-to-date research and tips for writing resumes and cover letters, doing effective networking and confident interviewing, and negotiating the best salary. Potential mature college students might be interested in the classic self-inventory, called “The Flower Exercise.” Why? Because the best answer to “Should I go back to college at 40?” flows from knowing who you are.

If you need to know how to go back to college at 40 because your marriage broke down, read 5 Tips for Going Back to School After Getting a Divorce. I wrote that article for a 45 year old friend who was struggling with the idea of college as a mature student. Going back to school was not what she expected to be doing, after being married for 20 years. Her oldest daughter was in university, and my friend was angry and disappointed that she herself was in the position of going back to college. She didn’t choose to get divorced, and she did not want to further her education.

Maybe you’re in the same boat – you’re not happy that you have to learn how to go back to college or make a career change at 40. I hope this parable helps!

The Parable of the Lemon Trees

Martha and Mary were neighbors who dreamed of planting lemon trees in their backyards and starting LemonBiz. They were eager to see the lemons grow, for they hoped to make and sell lemonades, pies, oils, lotions, and even cleansers. Martha and Mary were anxious about their new venture, for nobody in their community had ever been successful at growing lemon trees. LemonBiz would fill an untapped market.

As Martha planted her trees, she prayed, “Lord, my trees need rain, so their tender roots may drink and swell. Please send gentle showers.”

And so the Lord sent gentle showers.

“Lord,” Martha prayed, “my trees need warmth. Please send sunshine so the leaves will grow.”

And so the Lord sent sunshine.

“Lord,” Martha prayed, “Now send frost to make the trees’ roots and branches become strong and durable.”

And, behold, the little lemon trees sparkled with frost.

How to Go Back to College at 40

The Parable of the Lemon Tree

But two days later, Martha was disappointed to see her lemon trees had died. She must have prayed for too much frost, too little sunshine. Or perhaps too much rain and frost, not enough sunshine? She didn’t know. Dismayed, she went next door to see how Mary’s trees were doing.

Mary’s lemon trees were flourishing! Lots of leaves, and tiny buds that promised dozens of juicy lemons.

“What did I do wrong?” asked Martha. “I prayed for rain and sun and frost, but my trees died. What did you pray for, Mary?”

“I asked the Lord to send my trees what they need,” said Mary. “For He created the lemon seeds, soil, sun, and wind. He knows what will nurture and sustain them, while I have no idea. So I made no specific requests. I just asked for His presence and blessing on my trees.”

When You’re Going Back to College at 40

Martha’s mistake was thinking she knew what her lemon trees needed to grow, instead of trusting God. Martha was right that her trees needed rain, sun, and even frost. But she didn’t know when or for how long each season should last. Martha tried to control everything. Mary, on the other hand, did what she could do (eg, create a business plan for LemonBiz, plant lemon seeds, provide the right environment for lemon trees to grow, learn about gardening and lemons, etc). She left the rest to God.

Whether you’re dismayed or delighted to go back to college at 40, you need to find the right balance of faith and action. I don’t believe we should just sit back and let life just happen to us, but I also don’t believe we should try to control everything that happens. Balancing faith with action is key. I tend to err on the Martha side – most of my articles are practical, such as 10 High Paying Jobs for College Students. I’m learning that we sometimes need to let go and have faith.

These tips on how to go back to college at 40 aren’t about being a mature student, deciding what to study at college, learning how to read textbooks, registering for classes, making college cheaper, etc. Rather, they’re about surviving this season of your life – and even thriving as a mature college student.

Decide what your internal motivation is

Do you want to go back to college so you can become financially independent or more employable? Probably. Or, maybe you want to go back to school because you’ve always wanted to be a lawyer, doctor, writer, or aromatherapist. Whatever your reasons for being a mature student at 40, you need to find your internal motivation. Make it personal.

Learn the difference between internal and external motivation

going back to college at 40

How to Go Back to College at 40

External motivation means your reasons for going back to college at 40 are given to you by other people. You feel like you’re forced to get more education. For instance, my divorced friend feels like she’s being forced to go back to school because her ex-husband refuses to pay alimony. And why should he? She’s perfectly capable, able-bodied, and smart. She has the time and money. But she doesn’t want to go to college as a mature student because she has no internal motivation. She doesn’t care about personal or professional growth. She isn’t curious about any subject or career. She never wanted to “be” anything.

If you have loads of internal motivation – but you have no money for tuition or textbooks – read Scholarships for Women Going Back to School. That’s a practical tip for how to go back to college at 40: find out what sources of financial support are available to you.

Prepare for a touch of loneliness

I went back to university when I was 42 years old. I was in graduate school at UBC (I got my Master of Social Work), and it was definitely the most difficult program I’ve ever taken. What made it more challenging was the fact that I was the oldest of my cohort. All my fellow students were younger. They were still classified as “mature students”, but they were in their 20s and 30s. They had no idea what it was like to go back to college at 40, and I felt alone. Without internal motivation, I probably wouldn’t have finished my MSW because I felt lonely.

Connect with other mature college students who are 40 or 50

One of the best tips on how to go back to college is to connect with mature students who are your age or older. You don’t have to stay in your program. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve explored the other faculties and found a social club for mature students. I was immersed in the school of social work, and it wasn’t healthy or fun.

Remember The Parable of the Lemon Trees

Take care of what you can control, and let the rest unfold as God intends. I really like this advice: “Don’t think about things so much. Let it happen. Sometimes, people spend too much time thinking. If you just let things happen, the universe works.” – John Paul Dejoria.

No mature student should go back to school without reading College Checklist – The Smart Student’s “To Do” List.

If you have any tips on how to go back to college at 40 – or being a mature student – please share below! I can’t offer professional advice or academic counseling, but I’d love to hear what you think.

May your experience as a mature student at college be fruitful, and may you become adept at turning lemons into lemonade. I wish you God’s peace, joy, and wisdom as you enter this new season of your life.