I went back to university full-time at 38 to finish my BA degree. I was the oldest student in all my classes but I would see a few older students around the college. I studied history and economics and did very well: I didn’t have the distractions that are common among traditional-age students such as partying and boyfriend/girlfriend dramas; I had the discipline that comes from 20 years in the workplace, and thus did everything well and on time; and I had real-world experience that benefited me greatly.
When I was 41, I went to law school of NYU. Again, I was among the older students but not the oldest: There was a woman in my class who had graduated from college the year I was born! The same factors that had benefited me in undergraduate studies also stood to me in law school (the real-world experience was particularly useful). I graduated in the top ten percent of my class at one of the best law schools in the United States.
I have always loved history but studying it seriously at university broadened and deepened my understanding in ways that I cannot begin to describe. I also find economics inherently interesting and my undergraduate economics courses have helped me tremendously in my career as an antitrust lawyer.
I got my master’s degree when I was in my 40s. It wasn't any more difficult than it was to get my BA in my late teen-early 20s. Most of my classmates were in their mid to late 20s, but other than having a few cultural references that were different, the age difference was not an issue. In fact, I now have a terrific friend who is a decade younger than I and whom I would never have met had we not been in school together.
❹ I liked college a lot because of my real-world experience, it made me understand things so much better and I was far more motivated to learn than some of the other students who were straight out of high school.
My husband left secondary school at 15, and joined the Royal Navy; when he left (by then a junior officer) ten years later, they recommended that he should go to university, but he refused; he felt that at 25 he was too old.
Fifteen years and a second career (in industrial purchasing) later, he suddenly decided he wanted to go to university. He had a wonderful time there, was suddenly a good ten years younger, got a very good degree (in Computing) and went on to a happy third career as a freelance programmer and systems analyst.
Almost without exception, the best and most motivated students are the non-traditional students. ("Non-traditional" is defined as a college student who doesn't fit the stereotype of being 18 - 22 years old.)
In my experience, non-traditional students are more likely to be on time for class and be prepared. Their essays are usually far more interesting because of their life experiences. They ask good questions and they understand that they are paying me to teach them (through their tuition). They want value for their money and are willing to work with me to see that they get it.
People will always tell you you're too old, talk to you about the income you'll lose, bring up the opportunity cost. But you're already asking the question. In your 40′s you're thinking about going back to school and making yourself better, you already want to go back. Do it.
You can't put a financial price tag on your feelings of accomplishments and self-worth. Maybe it leads to a better job, maybe not. But you want a college degree, so go get one. As long as you don't neglect your family and bankrupt yourself chasing some foolish dream, do it.
Most people work dead-end jobs for minimal pay and have very little time to enjoy themselves. If education gives you the slightest bit of happiness and satisfaction, shines a small glimmer of light on a dull existence, it's worth it, do it.