Over a 40-year career, a college graduate earns $650,000 more than someone with some or no college, the Pew Research Foundation found. While there are some anomalies in the data, you’ll generally increase your lifetime income by finishing a degree. While this can be an enormous boon if you are raising a child, buying a house or planning to retire, it also can improve your daily life.

There are plenty of ways to get those last credits under your belt, including online education opportunities that adapt to your schedule. For instance, you can use a college locator like CollegeOnline to find learning opportunities in your area. If you stopped college before you finished your degree, here are five benefits that may motivate you to finish your education:

1. Higher marketability and better job retention rates.

The College Board’s Education Pays study revealed that college graduates have better job retention rates in a recession-related layoff than their peers who did not finish college. Even if a college graduate is laid off from work, she’ll have an easier time finding another job than a peer who does not have an undergraduate degree. If you faced tough times since the 2008 recession, getting a degree can increase your prospects of thriving through the next recession.

2. Improved self-esteem and confidence.

The Education Pays study also reported that college graduates are better equipped to handle difficult challenges and report more satisfaction when doing so. Over time, this can lead directly to more confidence on and off the clock, and higher rates of self-esteem.

3. Access to better jobs.

The desire to get out of a dead-end job can drive many adults to return to college to finish their degree. When you have a bachelor’s degree, you will qualify for more jobs within your organization and outside the organization. You can interview for better jobs, move up within your company and begin to derive a true satisfaction from what you do, day in and day out.

4. Expanded horizons.

A college degree often forces you to study subjects you might not otherwise have tackled, simply because you need to fulfill a requirement. This can broaden your perspective and offer you new ways to relate to colleagues, friends, family members and your community. If you’ve been putting off your plan to go back to school because you feel that you aren’t very good at math or writing, take heart. Studying these subjects as part of a degree requirement may have unexpected benefits. If you had stuck to a path that was more comfortable to you, you might not reap the benefits that would come from learning new things.

5. New friends and networks.

The connections many people make when in college can have a significant impact on their lives. So if you do decide to go back to school, get involved in the community or make friends with others who are in your classes. You can even connect with friends from online classes via LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networks. After college, your friend may be able to get you an interview (or a job) at her work. Without a college degree, you might not get a leg up on the sort of job you want.

This post comes from Carrie, a second-year student at Portland State University in Oregon. While only in her second year, Carrie has already racked up enough credits for junior standing, all while working as a freelance writer and oboe instructor in addition to her full-time studies — so you know her advice is good! Here’s what she has to say about getting back into the swing of things this term.

5 Tips for Getting Back Into Your School Schedule

Break was the ultimate relief because for just a little while I got to go home and rest. Amazingly enough, however, I was ready to get back to my usual routine about a full week into break when I’d recovered from sleeping for about four days straight. Here’s a list of my tried-and-true tips to help you get back into your school routine. I have to admit that I don’t always remember to follow all of them all of the time, but I find that the more I do stick with them, the better I feel and do.

  1. Prep Your Planner: First of all, if you’re not using a planner, I highly recommend that you do! It helps me plan weekends home while also keeping up on what’s due soon. The day I get my syllabi, I write in all of my due dates so that nothing is a surprise later on in the term and I can plan ahead.
  2. Buy Your Books Early: Searching online by ISBN will ensure that you get the exact books you’re looking for and that you can find them for a fraction of the bookstore price by comparing prices across the Web (I use CampusBooks.com because it saves me time and money). Just be sure that you buy your books early so that they ship to you in time for first classes. Saving money on books helps you stress less about finances and it will give you some spending cash to ease into that first week back with some pizza to soften the shock.
  3. Go to Bed Early: I never sleep well the first week back because I’m having headaches and nightmares about finding classes and not being registered and having bad professors. If I take a small dose of Advil to stop the headache, I can relax and go to bed on time. When I do this and keep a regular schedule for sleeping and waking, I’m ready for the next day.
  4. Map Your Route: If at all possible, find your classes before you’re racing to them! There’s nothing more embarrassing than walking into the wrong room or arriving to the right class a half hour late because you couldn’t find it.
  5. Take Care of Yourself: I notice that making breakfast in the morning, eating fruits and vegetables, staying hydrated, and walking helps me ease back into the change of being back to school. The transition can be rough on the body so it’s nice to give your immune system some backup and do things like eat right and exercise to help your mood.

The new year brings with it inspiration for improvement for all of us but also a particular set of resolutions and goals for college students. Those do’s and don’ts you set around January 1? Those ambitions and strategies for change for the better? They’re important but they tend to go by the wayside a week or two in as winter break ends, the new semester kicks off, and old habits return. That said, we’re checking in with you a couple of weeks into the new year with our down-to-earth realistic resolutions and reminders that any college student can stick with for 2014 and years to come. Make this your best year ever!

Resolutions for College Success