Attending College as a Non-Traditional Student

Femme Frugality writes about money as it pertains to young adults, brides, parents, Pittsburghers, and, of course, college students. You can read her blog here.

Recently Michelle shared that W was returning to school, and asked for some tips for non-traditional students. I recently graduated, and now my fiance is going to college for the first time.

We’re about as non-traditional as it gets, both being far beyond “traditional” college age, and having children. So I’ve got a plethora of tips that have been helping us get through this stage in our lives. And Michelle was kind enough to let me share them in a post.


Work as Little As Possible

I know that sounds crazy. As a non-traditional student, you’ve got very grown-up bills to pay. But trust me. If you’re serious about your degree, trimming down your work schedule will help not just your grades, but your overall mental health. I am not suggesting you go into debt in order to go back to school. (Both my fiance and I are doing this without any loans.)

What I am suggesting is that you sit down and look at your monthly budget. Look at your bills, how much you’ll need to be contributing to your emergency fund, how much you’ll need for other essentials such as gas and groceries, and a realistic entertainment category (though it might not be a bad idea to trim it down a little bit if you can).

Figure out the lowest number you’re willing to commit to (be realistic about this) for your overall monthly budget.

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How to Transition Back into the Workforce After a Long Period of Unemployment

Recently, a reader said that while my blog is helpful, that she would rather me have more tips and posts on those who have had a long period of unemployment. Then all of a sudden I received an e-mail from One Smart Dollar who said that they wanted to guest post and had some general ideas for a topic. What was one of those topics? It was THIS ONE! What great timing right?

This is a guest post from Scott Sery, a freelance writer, who writes for One Smart Dollar.  When not talking about money he enjoys passing on his knowledge of the back country in Montana and how to live sustainably.  Follow them on Twitter at @OneSmartDollar.

At least one time during most people’s working career they will find themselves unemployed. Whether it’s due to company cutbacks and workers layoffs, or due to the employee being fired, these normally hard working people find themselves forced into job hunting.

While there are plenty of jobs out there, not every job is suited to every person. So, rather than settle for something that is beneath their skill level, or a menial job that would do more damage to their self esteem than it is worth, they collect unemployment. They do this as they keep looking for the job for which they are trained. Many times that looking period is long; often lasting a year or more. When something finally does come along, they often find that the transition from unemployed to working is a lot harder than the transition from working to unemployed.

When a company first acknowledges your résumé and grants you an interview, you will be bombarded with emotions. First, overwhelming joy that you actually have a chance to re-enter the workforce will flood you. Then, that joy will be replaced with anxiety, fear, and doubt. The “what-ifs” creep in. You know those nagging questions: what if I don’t get the job, what if I get laid off again, what if I bomb the interview?  Take a deep breath, and take it one step at a time.

Prepare Your Image

Ideally, you would have already been getting up and starting each day as though you were getting ready for work. This means waking up early, showering and dressing as though you were going to head to the office, and then using at least a few hours per day researching jobs. If you have not been keeping up on your image, get yourself back there quickly.

Prepare Your Knowledge

You need to know the ins and outs of the company before your interview.  One of the top mistakes people make is walking into an interview without doing any research first.  You should know everything you possibly can about the company. And then take some time to learn about common interview questions.  The more you have studied, the more confidence you will exude during your interview. You’ll find the more confidence you exude, the more likely you are to land the job.

Prepare Your Network

This step comes after you nail the interview and land the job. In fact, the number one reason people do not get the job after an interview is because they don’t ask for it. If you feel you aced the interview, a simple question to ask is, “So when do I start?”  At that moment you can start building a relationship with your future co-workers. You will want to know who to turn to for inevitable questions that will arise.

Prepare Your Skills

Many times, there is still that lingering doubt that you won’t cut it at this job either. Get rid of all doubt by making yourself an invaluable asset to the company. Work hard to do more than what is required of you. Seek out new assignments and tasks. Take initiative without being asked. Show that you care, and that you want to do a good job, so if lay-offs come along again your name won’t even make that list.

Final Thoughts

Unemployment is tough. It wreaks havoc on our emotions and feelings of self worth. Those feelings do not disappear when transitioning back into the workforce. The key is to recognize them, and make sure they work for you and not against you. If you have found yourself out of a job for a while, now is the time to buckle down and become more competitive.

Have you ever had to deal with a long period of unemployment? What did or would you do?

Is a Business Degree a Waste?

Is a Business Degree a Waste?Is a Business Degree a Waste?  I keep hearing people/news outlets arguing at opposite ends of what seems to be a common question. Short answer – NO! I don’t think a business degree is anywhere near being a waste.

Recently, I read an interesting article about whether a business degree is a waste or a good decision.

I read the article multiple times (and unless I missed it), I’m pretty sure it means business schools as a whole (and the various degrees that are offered), and not just specifically a “business degree.

So when they say business degree, I’m assuming this includes Finance, Economics, Accounting, etc.

Personally I think a business degree is a great choice. It can open many doors and in some instances make you well rounded because of the wide range of classes which are usually available.

There are also many jobs and careers out there that involve a business degree. And as I said in the paragraph above, there are so many majors: finance, economics, accounting, management, health administration, marketing, operations, strategy, international business and so on.

As long as you are realistic about getting your degree and what you plan on doing with it, I don’t think there are many instances in which a degree can be a bad choice or a waste. Read my post How To Pay for Graduate School if you haven’t yet. Today’s post somewhat relates to that.

If you know what you want to do and also see value in it, then go for it. If you are unsure and question every move you make, then you might want to stop and think about what you truly want.

Also, most of my friends who graduated with business degrees have found jobs, whereas some of my friends who have other majors are having a much harder time.

Now, I’m not saying it’s easier to find a job for everyone, but with my friends and the area we live in, it has worked out well. And many of my friends who have degrees in other areas (such as anthropology) have even told me “I wish I went to school for business instead.”

I would never say that getting a business degree is a complete waste.

Of course I am biased when it comes to this post, as my undergraduate degrees are a B.S. in Business Administration and a B.A. in Management. And then I also have a Finance MBA.

So yes, I have THREE business degrees. I do like/enjoy the life I live, so that is probably another reason why I am biased. I am sure that if I couldn’t find a job, that I would question whether having a business degree is truly worthwhile to me.


Here’s the main statement of the article:

“The biggest complaint: The undergraduate degrees focus too much on the nuts and bolts of finance and accounting and don’t develop enough critical thinking and problem-solving skills through long essays, in-class debates and other hallmarks of liberal-arts courses.”


However, I think most majors are similar to this. I started off as a Psychology major in the beginning, and I definitely wouldn’t say it was that much different. Everything is mainly there for you to break into the subject, and then I think you should pursue some sort of emphasis or focus for yourself. This can include getting a job internship or focusing on a particular study within your degree.

According to the article, business majors account for around 20%, social sciences and history account for 11%, health professions at 8%, education at 6%, and the list goes on and on. For information about a masters of business administration, click here.


There are multiple ways to analyze whether or not your degree is worth it:

1. Do the professors have “real” experience?

I think this is extremely important. In classes where my professors had no actual business experience (there were very few of these professors at the schools I attended), I found the classes were just boring. It’s hard to listen to someone when you have more experience than them in the subject that they are trying to “teach.” I like to know how I can apply what I learn to REAL situations and how a professor has applied it in the past.

2. Does the student work?

This can include volunteering, a part-time or full-time job, etc. I think real world experience is important. If you work while you go to school, you are most likely applying what you learn as you learn it. I am more able to remember things if I  can apply it as I learn. Or if you worked in the past, then you will be able to analyze your past behaviors. I worked full-time all throughout undergraduate, and had a full-time career during my MBA program (same job I have today). You have a lot more to contribute to your classes when you have some experience.

3. What school are you attending?

Of course some schools are harder than others, and this might make it more “worth it.” There are different tier levels for school. Are you going to the best value? Or are you just going to the cheapest or the most expensive?

4. What do you see yourself doing in the future? 

Is this degree worth it to you and what you envisioned for your life? If you want to be a veterinarian but go to school for social work, well, that’s just a tad confusing. Make sure it lines up with what you want to do.


One commenter below the article referenced above said:

“When relatively few went to college, a college degree was a sign of accomplishment. Majors were limited, so you had to conform to the college’s needs. Then colleges started catering to everyone, backed by Federal loans to students. Degrees became watered down or meaningless, as students would keep changing majors (engineering – communications, math – psychology) just to get any degree.”

I somewhat agree with this. If getting a degree is now becoming the “norm,” then what’s next? Obviously individuals are going to have to up the ante somehow. I do think that a business degree is mainly a stepping stone, and college degrees are becoming the norm. Many things need to be done to differentiate yourself from the tons of other individuals out there.

What I’m doing (and did) to differentiate myself:

  1. Worked full-time and earned great experience all throughout undergrad as a retail manager.
  2. I now have a great career in the financial services industry.
  3. Have my Finance MBA.
  4. Finishing up with my financial certification this year (it’s a process that takes a couple of years to earn and I’ve been working on it since the Summer of 2010).

What is/was your major? Do you think it was worthwhile?


EDIT: My student loans are gone now! I paid off over $38,000 in less than one year.