| 13 Aug 2014 | 12:50

    Making the decision to return to school after several years can be a difficult one. It can require a significant devotion of effort, time and money. Now that many people may be facing staffing cuts and layoffs, it?s a more popular decision than ever. Returning students may seek to enrich their knowledge base and to benefit from the opportunity to explore a topic at a more relaxed pace. The chance to discover something new frequently proves to be a significant draw for adults who were unable to take full advantage of their college and high school years. The benefits of returning to school are numerous. By going back to school now, it is possible for you to enjoy the results of your efforts to a greater extent. In your past educational endeavors, you may have been at a different place in your life, so you may not have found school to be as easy or fulfilling as it might be for you these days. Many individuals I speak to about returning to school tell me that they were not fully committed to bettering themselves through education, despite all the opportunities that putting significant effort into their studies would have allowed. However, there are now many low-cost routes you can easily take to improve your job prospects during an economic downturn. Professional development workshops and trainings are regularly offered on weekends, and these opportunities can allow you to gain additional skills, whether they?re in computer science, the financial sector or any other field. Becoming licensed in your field of expertise and passing a licensing exam can be a valuable way for you to boost your job prospects whether you are out of work or simply seeking to further your career by exploring other possibilities. How can you pursue continuing education and guarantee that you will be able to balance your current home and work responsibilities? The solution is relatively simple. In order to maintain the results of your efforts at home and at work, all you need to do is choose a schedule for your courses that does not conflict with your other responsibilities. Most continuing education programs have course offerings that will fit with your work schedule, and simple time-management techniques and planning will allow you to fulfill any of your pre-existing commitments. Keeping a careful schedule and saving a set block of free time every week to devote to coursework will allow you to safely achieve the results that you envisioned when you decided to take your life in a new direction. What can you hope to gain by choosing to pursue continuing education opportunities? You can obtain a master's degree, finish a baccalaureate degree, study English as a Second Language to improve your speaking, reading and writing ability; or you might simply take courses in a particular area of interest for personal enrichment. Classes are available during the day and in the evening at a variety of universities across the five boroughs to accommodate virtually any schedule. Another benefit of taking a class or two at a university is that doing so will generally allow you to take advantage of that university's resources, including use of the library facilities, the student center, computer labs, writing tutors, student programming and career advising and management resources. Such offices can help you to evaluate your options and determine which course offerings and degree programs might help you to achieve your goals and make the most of the university's resources. Additionally, many continuing education programs will allow you to choose from virtually their entire set of course listings as a returning student. Although it is not always possible for you to receive credit toward a degree by selecting these offerings, you can still join a class that you might not have otherwise been able to gain admission to. In other cases, you may first take a few classes and upon being accepted to a degree program at a later date, be able to apply the credits from these continuing education classes toward your degree. Many companies offer tuition reimbursement programs for graduate degree and certificate-granting programs. This means that upon the completion of your degree or certificate, your employer might grant you partial or full reimbursement for any costs associated with the program. Additionally, one factor that may lessen the cost of continuing education is the bonus that the IRS will allow you to deduct up to several thousand dollars of your tuition each year. Another is the simple fact that employees with undergraduate and graduate degrees and those who have certificates in their career field tend to receive higher salaries. Whether you are seeking to advance up the career ladder at your current workplace, or you are seeking mid-career change, there are plenty of options out there for you. The idea that ?you can?t teach an old dog new tricks? has been replaced by the idea that old dogs (and middle-aged ones too) are able to add more to the classroom and can actually benefit from being in the classroom more than so-called traditional students. The life experience and perspective that adult students bring to the classroom can actually enrich their own education as well as that of their classmates. It is never too late for you to go back to school to earn your first degree or even an additional degree. Not only will doing so increase your career prospects in the short-term, but it can be an incredibly fulfilling experience for you as well. Furthermore, it sets a great example for your kids and younger relatives that you personally believe that education is important enough to pursue at this point in your life. Instead of continuing to wish that you had gone back to school and learned about something that really interests you, why not get started and take the first step toward learning it today? For more information about free and low-cost continuing education programs and offerings in your neighborhood, contact your local high school, college, adult education center or community center. Steve Schwartz is a professional college admissions counselor and tutor for SAT, Regents and Advanced Placement exams. He can be reached at [](