Why Ask Why Before Going Back to School?


If going back to school has been a long-term goal of yours, but life keeps getting in the way of your ability to move forward, it may be time to ask yourself “Why?”

Many nontraditional learners have layers of fear, life experiences, and negative perceptions that mask their true motivations for returning to college. For women like you with work and family responsibilities, these layers run even deeper. As a result, your reason for pursuing a degree in the first place often gets lost behind an overwhelming number of perceived roadblocks and barriers. Today we’re going to present you a thought framework that will help you move past roadblocks and stay on track in your college education.

What vs. How vs. Why

Most of the time you begin a new endeavor by deciding what you want to accomplish—for example, run a marathon, earn a degree, or shave points off your tennis game. Whatever your goal may be, you’re usually sure of what you want.

Next comes the how—the process you’ll follow to achieve your goal. Set up a training schedule?

Enroll in a degree program? Hire a tennis pro to help perfect your game? You have your sights set on the goal in the middle, and everything is going well.

But then things get trickier.

Are you willing to run in the rain or snow? Will you give up nights or weekends to study? Do you want to spend money on tennis lessons? If you haven’t considered your why for any of these goals, then your commitment may start to lag, and you’ll fall off track.

Wrong Approach

Flip the Script

This is our advice to you today: it’s time to flip the script. In his now-famous 2013 TED Talk, author and visionary thinker Simon Sinek insists that when it comes to decisions, you should “Start with Why.” He suggests that before focusing on logistical considerations such as what and how, you should begin by examining your motivation—your why.

Right Approach

Sinek uses the why exercise primarily in the business world, but it is an indispensable tool for nontraditional learners, too—especially women, who are generally the primary caregivers for their families, even if they have full-time employment. These women must make tremendous sacrifices (time, money, or both) to complete their degrees. Having a firm, realistic grasp on their true motivation—their why—keeps them focused and makes the sacrifices worthwhile.

 How Big is Your Why for Going Back to School?

If you are thinking seriously about returning to college (or you have already enrolled), consider whether or not your motivation is worth the sacrifices necessary to make it all the way to graduation.

  • What in your life are you willing to spend less time on in order to make room for school?
  • Are you willing to rearrange your schedule to let go of some things on your plate?
  • When the going gets tough, what will keep you going?

For some nontraditional learners, their motivation is to set an example for their children by demonstrating that persistence pays off. For others, it’s gaining self-confidence and feeling intellectually validated.

Getting Started

When thinking about returning to school as a nontraditional learner, examining your why is not always as easy as you might think. In fact, it is one of the biggest challenges for students and admissions  counselors alike. You may find yourself forgetting about your why  when you run up against  unexpected roadblocks, such as not having time and worrying about whether you can  afford the cost of education.

So, how do you get started using your why to help you complete your degree? Have a candid conversation with an admissions counselor , then write down your why on a “Certificate of Completion.” Frame it and put it in your office, kitchen, or bedroom—wherever it will serve as a visual affirmation to constantly remind you of your goal. And here’s why it matters: when you focus on why, you’re actually talking to the brain, impacting key behaviors that can make the difference between success and failure.

How badly do you want to earn your degree? How big is your why and what are you willing to do to make your college dream a reality? The American Women’s College can help you explore these questions and more. Talk with  one of our admissions counselors today!

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