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Never too late to learn

Heading back to school can give a leg up to adults who want a better job. Here are a few tips on how to make the most of your education.

By Gerri Willis, CNN

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- When back to school season starts, it won't be just kids who are getting ready - adults in their 30s and 40s are gearing up for the academic year. If you've thought about going back to college, we'll give you the 101.

1: Focus your goal

As an older student looking to make a career change, you really need to map out your academic goals. Get info on what careers are hot and what kind of training they require.

Go to CareerVoyages.gov. You can get insight on industries that are in demand. You'll also get a breakdown of hourly wages by state. Plus, you'll be able to see charts that track projected growth. For example, demand for home health aid is expected to grow 36 percent through 2014.

2: Go online

If you're looking for flexibility, distance learning may be just your thing. There are about 1500 online degree programs according to Vicky Phillips of GetEducated.com, an online degree clearinghouse. In fact, about 90 percent of colleges have some kind of online presence. Costs vary widely.

For an MBA, you can pay from $6,000 to $120,000. To get the best bang for your buck look for public, non-profit schools. Check out geteducated.com or go to learning.monster.com to see what programs are available in your area.

3: Beware diploma mills

Be wary of diploma mills, those bogus online sites that will leave you holding a fake degree. It's a red flag if all you have to do to be admitted is to have a valid Visa or MasterCard. If you are promised a degree in exchange for a lump sum - typically $2,000 for an undergraduate degree, or $3,000 for a graduate degree - it's a scam.

Real programs charge per credit or course. It's for sure a bogus operation if you have to pay a special price to "graduate with honors." You want to make sure the school is accredited by a legitimate organization. Go to the Council on Higher Education Accreditation. Or you can go to GetEducated.com and ask the "Diploma Mill Police."

4: Find the money

Financial aid is financial aid regardless of how old you are. And as a non-traditional student, you'll have just as easy a time getting aid as someone out of high school says Mark Kantrowitz of Finaid.org, an online student loan site.

Don't forget about the scholarships. There are over 250 awards created especially for students who are over 25 years old, and over 1800 scholarships that are available to someone of any age. Check out finaid.org for more information. Top of page

Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send e-mails to toptips@cnn.com or click here - each week, we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and CNNMoney.com.

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.