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Back to the Future: Study Again at 40+

Although it is usually younger people that enroll in a university program, it is more than possible for those over forty to join in on the fun. Whether you are starting your academic journey or continuing it with a doctorate or certificate program, there are many benefits of studying later in life. The aim of this article is to expose both the advantages and disadvantages at studying at 40+, delve into the most common fields of study, and present online studies as a new opportunity for prospective students.

Back to the Future: Study Again at 40+

The typical academic path usually involves a teenager or a person in their twenties, freshly graduated from high school and ready to get started with higher education. What follows is a few years of hard work, a Bachelor’s degree, perhaps a Master’s, and for the particularly brainy ones – a doctorate. The academic journey ends at one’s mid-twenties to early thirties, and the new, professional one, begins. However, just because that is the most common scenario, does not mean it should always be followed. Can you imagine going (back) to university at forty? If so, this article is for you. It is never too late to learn something new and better yourself, and what better way than higher education? There are many advantages of pursuing a degree as a “mature” student – priorities are aligned, new opportunities arise and career prospects are expanded. That being said, there are some disadvantages, such as the lack of federal funding for older students, but they can be overcome. This article will weigh in the benefits and downsides of studying at 40+, highlight all the different options, and explore the endless possibilities of programs and degrees.

Never too late to follow your dreams: why pursue a degree at 40+?

Not everyone has equal opportunities and the access to higher education. For many young people, studying at university is simply not an option, because of financial or personal reasons. As the years pass by, even if the chance arises, it is usually more and more difficult to find the time and motivation to start a degree. Nevertheless, there is a variety of programs today that enable people to study while working and taking care of a family. On the other hand, there are also individuals who already have university experience, but want to expand their knowledge and improve themselves professionally. Distance learning, blended learning, part-time, dual or job-integrated programs are all great options for the busy tribe.

There are many ways to go about it, as well as there are advantages. Among the numerous reasons to study at university at 40+ are:

  • Smooth career transition

It is not a rare concept for people to be dissatisfied with their career and wish for an easy change. The best way to achieve that is through a university degree. A great way to break out of tedious routine and change directions, pursuing a degree helps provide key knowledge and transferable skills for stable professional growth. You can not only learn more about the industry that you want to work in, but actually gain experience in it if you choose a more practice-oriented program.

  • Additional skills and higher positions

If not for a complete career change, you can use a university degree to improve your current prospects. Further learning will help hone your skills, making you even more of an asset to your employer. Researchers have found that the learning process stimulates the creative side of the brain, improving problem-solving abilities and encouraging innovative thinking – both highly sought-after skills in the modern professional world. What is more, obtaining a degree can help you reach for higher positions that were previously simply a dream.

  • Finally following your interests

Studies have shown that for the 18–24-year-old group, the encouragement of parents is a major factor of success at university. Similar applies for the influence towards a particular field of study. Teenagers are often swayed by family and friends, whereas older learners are often more independent with clearer motivations to drive themselves throughout your degree. Older students have also had more time to understand their personal strengths and weaknesses; this means they can choose a degree and learning format that suits them.

  • More and better opportunities

If you are just starting out on your academic journey, you probably already know that a university degree is among the prerequisites for good career opportunities. Mature learners are more likely to choose employability-focused degrees and have a definite career path in mind. Although it may seem like a difficult task, starting a degree over the age of forty is a great way to increase employability.

  • On the way to self-improvement

Formally applying your mind to new concepts and ideas will help you break out of your comfort zone and hit the refresh button on your life. Rediscovering skills and qualities or achieving lifelong personal goals is an enormous confidence-booster and will do wonders for your self-esteem. What is more, studying will be a break from the norm and a chance to try something new. Studying provides an easier way to meet new people with challenging thoughts and ideas. This will shift you out of your comfortable weekly routine and into a space where a fresh outlook of life is expected. What is more, you can expand your network. In online and distance learning, for instance, fellow students can be based anywhere in the world, providing you with the opportunity to build friendships and an expansive multi-country network to tap into once your studies are completed.

  • Setting a great example

Perhaps you want to set an example for your children, or you are newly single and need to find a way to make a better living. Whatever the motive, going to university as a mature student demonstrates motivation and determination – great qualities that the people in your life can learn from. Sacrificing your needs for children or older parents can also clarify your own goals. When you are finally able to go after your own desires, you may find that all those experiences have built up reserves of strength and persistence you never knew you had.

Despite the benefits that studying over 40 can bring, there are also some hurdles to overcome. 

Overcoming the hurdles: financial factors

It is undoubted that there are numerous advantages of studying over the age of forty. The opportunities and experiences that come from higher education are something that is incomparable to anything else. However, one of the main points related to studying is the funding.

Germany is a popular educational destination, because university programs at public universities are tuition fee-free for EU students. However, over the age of 40, for distance or evening studies the total costs can be between 2,000 and 20,000 EUR depending on the degree and length of study. Plus, only students who are not older than 29 (for a Bachelor’s degree) and 34 (for a Master’s) and pursuing their first degree are eligible for a BAföG student loan. In addition, the reduced student tariff in health insurance does not apply.

So, what are the financing options for students over 40?


Scholarships and Loans

Although the BAföG loan is only available for younger students, there are still other forms of financial aid that you can benefit from as a mature student. Scholarships run through foundations that promote talented students. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research, which provides the funds for financial support, has established 13 funding agencies that provide help to gifted students. There are different types of scholarships – for example, for a degree, a stay abroad, or a doctorate. Accordingly, the support does not necessarily run for the entire semester or even for the entire duration of the study, but for example in the first three months or in the end phase when doing the doctorate. Students over 40 can still take out bank loans to help finance their education.

Studying while working

Many companies have the practice of fully or partially funding their employees’ education as part of their professional development and potential benefit for the business. Generally, the closer the degree is to the (possible) work content, the higher the chance it will be paid for by the employer.

Part-time jobs

Full-time students often take on part-time jobs in order to gain financial stability. As an older student, that is also an option, especially if you are juggling between work, family and education.

Dual degrees

Dual degrees are a form of studies that combines practical work with academic training. It is popular with students because it provides academic education as well as practical experiences. Furthermore, students get paid with a fixed salary from the company they are placed in, making it a great option for people of all ages wishing to get the best of both worlds.

Tax returns

Students aged 40 or older can save on their tax returns. For example, if you study alongside your main job, you can deduct the costs of your studies as income-related expenses from tax. Self-employed or tradespeople can state the cost of studying as business expenses. Though not a loan or scholarship, tax returns are still a way to cut down expenses and save money.


Finally, for those who are extremely good with their finances, there is always the option of funding your education with the money set aside for special occasions. After all, what is more special than your education and future career goals?

Apart from the financial obstacles, there are often also personal setbacks you must overcome when enrolling at university over the age of 40. It is common for people to struggle with difficult external conditions because they don’t receive support from their parents or are not entitled to the BAföG student loan. Free time is limited – weekends, leisure activities and hobbies are history for the time being. The feedback from family and friends, who tend to express doubts, can also be challenging. The degree requires a lot of self-organization, motivation, hard work and perseverance.

That being said, the outcome far outweighs the struggle. The accomplishment of gaining a university degree is evidence of a strong will and a passion for self-improvement. So, here the inevitable question arises: What degree should you pursue?


The best university programs for mature students

As a mature student, the choice to further your education is yours alone; no one is telling you what to study. That being said, there is such a wide variety of universities and degree programs, that it can sometimes be overwhelming to decide on one. There are certain fields that are more practical and suitable for students over 40, bringing out the best of their potential.

1. IT sector

One of the most in-demand and quickly growing sectors will not be slowing down anytime soon. In fact, as tech continues to take over the workforce, this career is a secure, safe, and even lucrative choice when considering a career switch. Web developers can work as part of a design or marketing agency, work as freelancers, or even start their own businesses creating websites for other businesses and professionals.

2. Finance

Many auditors and accountants have a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting. Alternatively, there has been a shift in employers preferring those with a Master’s degree, either in accounting or a related field in business. That means that if you already have a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s is an excellent option. It will increase your expertise and open up new professional doors.

3. Healthcare

The healthcare and medical sector needs qualified professionals. Nursing, physical therapy and medical administration are just a few fields that do not require many years of studying and provide high job satisfaction.

4. Education

A career in teaching can be a rewarding and secure choice, as elementary school teaching positions are at an average growth rate that is predicted to stay more or less the same in future years. If, however, you wish to grow professionally, you can aim for teaching at a higher level and even train for the position of a university professor. The path towards professorship is longer than most, but for those who already have a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, the next logical step is a doctorate program. But for those aiming for a shorter route, it is common for universities to hire higher education lecturers who have earned a Master’s degree with demonstrated expertise in their field.

5. Business and Management

Those with exceptional organization and management skills would do well to consider a career as a project manager. Due to the flexibility of the position, those seeking a career in project management can pursue a degree in a wide variety of fields. Another administrative role, human resource managers handle the employee side of a business, specialize in recruiting and hiring new employees for the business and often work with high-level executives on strategy.

6. Marketing

One of the best options if you are looking for a career change is marketing. These positions typically require a Bachelor’s degree in a field relating to market research, but if you already have one in a similar field, a Master’s degree is even more attractive for employers.

These fields are not only highly suitable for mature students, but also offered in different varieties, including online programs.


Studying online: the future of higher education

Digital education has a number of advantages - it allows students to attend classes from any location of their choice. Online lectures can be recorded, archived, and shared for future reference – this allows students to access the learning material at a time of their comfort. The online learning system, with its range of options and resources, can be personalized in many ways. It is the best way to create a perfect learning environment suited to the needs of each student. This makes studying online an excellent option for students over 40. The flexibility of the programs enables you to attend virtual lectures at a convenient time for you, and makes juggling between work, university and personal responsibilities way easier.

However, it is important to choose an online higher education institution that meets your needs. It takes great organization to successfully study online. It is important to ensure you can meet the requirements for your computer to connect to the online environment. You need to seek degrees, programs, and certifications that will be recognized by companies that you wish to partner with on projects, or continue your professional development with. One such online educational institution is the Open Institute.


The Open Institute: your digital university

The Open Institute is an innovative digital university with headquarters in Switzerland and Bulgaria. It offers and executes several MBA and DBA/LLD programs for working people in cooperation with Collegium Humanum Warsaw. You can obtain an internationally-recognized and accredited degree in the following fields: Master of Business Administration (MBA) with specializations in HR Management, Leadership & Coaching, Mobile & Digital Marketing, Management in IT, Cyber Security, Healthcare Management and Executive MBA (EMBA); Master of Science in Digitalization (M.Sc.), Master of Laws (LL.M.), and Master of Public Health (MPH), as well as Doctor of Economics (Dr. oec.), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) and Doctor of Public Health (DPH).

These graduate and postgraduate programs are highly practice-oriented with case studies and projects, scientific parts and doctoral theses. With a two-semester standard duration for the MBA programs, and up to four for the doctoral, they are efficient and time-effective. The university and professors keep consistent communication with a detailed and specific syllabus, and individual attention is given to each student. The outcome is a highly valued qualified degree that sets you up for success in some of the most competitive sectors. Just a click away!