Starting college, getting a university degree, or even going back to school part-time to audit a class can be intimidating and even scary for women over fifty. I’m speaking from experience; I went back to school last week and am surrounded by students half my age.
Most of my classmates are young enough to be my children — and so are many of my professors. We’re at different stages of life and I feel like I’m getting a late start. I doubt I’ll be able to use my degree (I’m enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, Canada) the way my fellow classmates will use theirs. I also doubt my 50-year-old brain will learn Hebrew and Greek as easily as my fellow classmates, but even so…I’m determined to give it the old college try!
My tips for going back to school for women over fifty are inspired partly by an article I wrote years ago for She Blossoms: What You Need to Know About Making a Career Change at 40. More importantly, these tips inspired by a deep and meaningful experience in my own life.
This is the fourth time I’ve gone back to university since graduating from high school thirty years ago. I have a Bachelor of Psychology and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. I also have a Master of Social Work from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (which is where Regent College is).
Going back to school is what I love to do…but even so, it’s still intimidating. And starting a Master of Divinity program (MDiv) is downright scary! Yet, I feel compelled. I yearn to study God’s word in a formal, academic setting. I want to learn from Hebrew and Biblical scholars, and I pray my insights will shine God’s light brighter and stronger in this world.
And that, friends, is the most important tip for women over fifty who are going back to school: start from a place of passion, yearning, and desire. If you’re forcing yourself to study, you won’t enjoy it. And if you don’t enjoy it, what’s the point?
3 Tips for Going Back to School for Women Over 50
Earlier I mentioned that I wrote an article for mature students who haven’t been in school for years. Here’s the difference between these tips and those insights: the Bible. These tips for women 50-plus are inspired by Joseph and Jacob’s story in Genesis 46.
This article is part of my She Blossoms Through the Bible project — but you don’t have to follow Jesus to benefit from my tips on going back to school! If you’re a woman over fifty you know the value of keeping an open mind and listening to the still small voice that brought you here.
1. Boldly bring your whole self to school
“Israel [Jacob] set out with all he had…” are the first words of Genesis 46. They set the stage for Jacob packing up his family, servants, herds and possessions. The whole clan had to start over. They were moving to Egypt to live with brother Joseph, who was saving them from death by starvation due to famine. The move was a major life change for all over them — and they were preparing to meet an estranged family member (Joseph) after twenty years without contact. Can you imagine the emotions, fears, worries, doubts, insecurities and anxiety? Not to mention the practical concerns of starting over in a new place. The Israelites were strangers moving to a foreign land. They were committed to a fresh start, and their lives would never be the same.
What are you leaving behind? What strengths and experiences are you bringing with you? If you’re a woman over fifty going back to school — whether it’s for the first or fourth time — you’re leaving things behind. I’m leaving my full-time She Blossoms blogging job (which I love), dogs (Georgie is a high-anxiety terrier who does not like being alone), and financial security. I’m investing my retirement money in my education, and I doubt I’ll ever use my MDiv to actually get a job. I’ll be so old by the time I graduate, nobody will want to hire me! When you go back to school as a 50-plus year-old woman, you are making sacrifices to go back to school. You’re also bringing a wealth of wisdom, strengths and experiences that your young classmates don’t have. Honor your past and your present gifts.
If you’re applying for a Master’s degree or PhD, read 3 Tips for Improving Your Chances of Getting Into Grad School.
2. Pause and pray — often
The beginning of Genesis 46 tells us that after Jacob stopped in Beersheba to offer sacrifices to the Lord God. That night God spoke to Jacob in a dream, telling him not to be afraid. God briefly outlined His plans for Israel, without telling Jacob every little last detail. The Lord told Jacob as much as he needed to know, and encouraged him to keep going. Israel wouldn’t have moved forward without stopping to pause and pray to the Lord their God.
How is your relationship with Jesus? Don’t leave Jesus in the New Testament, or at the back of your mind for when things get really hard or sad. You can find Jesus in the nooks and crannies of every aspect of your life — especially if you’re a Christian woman who is going back to school! God loves to walk us through new seasons of life. In fact, if you have God then you don’t need study tips, support for mature students, or resources for adult learners. You need to keep pausing and praying. You will find the strength, clarity, wisdom and hope you need…but you have to rely on Jesus for everything.
3. Be humble
Genesis 46 almost — but not quite — ends with Joseph and Jacob weeping with love after being united after twenty years of estrangement. Those men were overwhelmed with love, joy, and even pain after all that time apart…but Joseph also had plans to take care of Israel. Like Jesus, Joseph introduced the idea of becoming a humble shepherd. Like Jesus, Joseph saved his people even though they sold him into slavery and left him for dead. At the end of Genesis 46, Joseph tells his Hebrew family to be shepherds in Egypt. Egyptians looked down on shepherds and wouldn’t intermingle with them. This “set apartness” would ensure the Israelites would remain as pure as possible, not mixing with pagan peoples, gods, or idols. Joseph’s Hebrew family had to become humble shepherds if they wanted to survive in Egypt.
How is going back to school a humbling experience for you? I’m starting classes in January, with students who are not only younger and brighter, most of them have also been in school since September. They have previous classes and even degrees in theology, Biblical languages, Christian thought and history. Most students have even worked as pastors, Christian educators, and church leaders. Many are missionary couples or families. I am humbled by the wealthy of God-ness I see at school…but I’m also aware of my identity and value in Jesus. My fellow students are awesome, smart, kind, compassionate, and loved by the Lord…and so am I. And so, my friend, are you.
Here’s my final tip for going back to school for women over fifty: don’t hide your fears or worries. Bring them to God, pray through your pain, and share your concerns with kindred spirits. Find other mature students. Get to know the 20 year old students. Talk to the 30 year olds, learn who the 40 year old students are. Be bold — not because you’re old 🙂 but because God knows you and brought you here for a reason.
- If you’re enrolled in a program that involves an internship or work placement, read How to Find a Practicum Placement in Social Work – BSW and MSW Students.
- Are you distracted by finances, tuition, book costs, additional fees? Read 10 Highest Paying Jobs for College Students. You might also like Best Jobs for Introverts and People Who Like to Be Alone.
- If you’re concerned about your learning ability as a woman over fifty, you are not alone. I’m wondering what it’ll be like to learn Hebrew and Greek! Read How to Study When You Can’t Focus – College Students for tips.
As always, your thoughts — big and little — are welcome below.
P.S. Are you struggling to make a decision or find the right path in your life? Read an Easy Way to Stop Overthinking God’s Will for Your Life.