No matter at what age, studying, and attending college is a life-changing experience that won’t leave anybody untouched. If you are determined to take this leap in your life, be sure that you won’t be alone! Over 40% of college students are older than 25, and most of them are juggling busy professional, private, and student lives.
Here are 12 tips for adults returning to college:
- Set expectations
- Set goals
- Build relationships
- Find support in your school
- Consider online courses
- Leverage your experiences
- Identify your learning style
- Find the right path for you
- Rethink your schedule
- Rethink your finances
- Get support at home
- Stay positive, but take it seriously
You are now probably thinking “easier said than done.” But first, check out the details below! Discover what to expect and how to deal with the next exciting step in your life.
1. Set expectations
First and foremost, get clear on what are your intentions and reasons for going back to college. This step is essential to pick the right major field of study and achieve the outcome you wanted to see from this effort. We will have a look at the importance of setting your goals in the next section. But, for now, focus on finding out what your expectations are from the college experience.
Of course, all students, regardless of their age, want to have a well-balanced social and personal life, and complete the course with the highest grades. If possible, even finish the college ahead of time!
However, being realistic about what the journey is going to be like is just as important as setting expectations. It is essential to evaluate what to expect to ensure it is reasonable and achievable, not only assume so.
If this is your first time roaming the corridors of a school after many years, you should embrace hiccups and obstacles to overcome. Optimism can be encouraging, but being accurate and realistic will get you a step further. Doing so allows you to be prepared for such challenges and facing them without the temptation to give up. Review your habits and capabilities to come up with realistic expectations.
2. Set a goal
Generally, the main goal of returning to college is to graduate and enjoy the benefits of this achievement. However, it does not end there! Specific goals entirely depend on the reasons behind your choice. That’s what makes it so important for you to understand your main aim before even starting your research for a school or major.
Here are the most common reasons for adults returning to college:
Independently from what caused it, many adults find themselves in the position of having to leave their career behind. Over 60% of Americans end up retiring earlier than they wish due to personal or employer-related complications. In this case, the reason for returning to college is the willingness to acquire more skills and secure another job position.
Waiting for better times
Undoubtedly, the path that all young students have in front of them includes going to college, graduating, and finding a corporate job. However, at such a young age, many students might not have the financial means or a formed idea to pick the right major for themselves. That is why many adults prefer to dive directly into professional life and ensure they are in a better financial position before dedicating savings for schooling fees. This option allows them to avoid debts and pick a major that is undoubtedly right for them.
Staying within the same corporation or company for many years can yield massive satisfaction both personally and financially. At the same time, such jobs can make you feel burned out after decades of routine. This is definitely one of the reasons why some adults might return to college and get new skills.
Usually, this means that they can start a new project, expand on the knowledge they already have, gain a promotion, or start working in another area of their field. Such a small change can indeed increase personal satisfaction and happiness.
Finish a course that you had started
Something might have sidetracked you the first time, but you have the opportunity to try again! Whether you suspended your education path for academic issues, to follow a passion, or for personal reasons, starting again can lead to new career opportunities.
Find a better life-career balance
If you juggle your shifts, errands, duties, and responsibilities, you might have been struggling to get enough time to look after yourself. Going back to college allows you to start from scratch and enter a new career that does not require you to work as much or follow strict shifts.
Expand your skills
Even if you are satisfied with your job or occupation, you might be wishing for a promotion or raise. Indeed, reaching self-actualization in your workplace might be the ultimate challenge, but offer you an unparalleled quality of life.
3. Build relationships
As you re-enter a classroom, you might feel like a fish out of water due to the difference in age and life experiences. However, building connections and relationships with other students enrich the college journey and complete it. You can do so both before starting and while attending your classes.
- Before starting – use social media platforms such as LinkedIn to find out about the school you are about to attend and its students. Ask questions and get in touch to have a point of reference beforehand. Build connections with alumni and instructors if you seek the point of view of more mature individuals.
- After starting – asking your classmates to go for a coffee might be intimidating. But the people around you represent unlimited resources you shouldn’t overlook. If it is possible, organize study groups and join as many projects as you can.
4. Ensure your school offers the support you need
Not all colleges are ideal for adult learners or have adequate facilities. Indeed, some of these institutions focus entirely on students aged between 18 and 25, for whom the main priority is college. In turn, these schools will not be as ready to understand that you might have a busy life looking after your family, kids, aging parents, and career.
Luckily, some other schools offer alternative schedules and encourage self-paced learning. Moreover, look out for additional services that indicate that that school will happily accommodate adult learners such as:
- Adequate counseling options
- Evening/weekend classes and courses
- On-campus child care
To find such schools, search for the ones that actively advertise education programs and schedules for adult students. Indeed, this is an excellent sign that they are recruiting students like you, and they are familiar with your needs.
Schools that don’t advertise such programs as much could still accept you as a student, but they might not be as equipped to meet your requirements.
5. Consider online courses
With the advent of online courses and university courses, an increasing number of older students opt for this alternative. The reasons behind and benefits of this choice are many and vary from student to student. Below you can find out what makes online learning the optimal option for many adults.
- Flexibility – Online courses offer you increased flexibility of schedules and classes.
- No commuting – Allows you to save time on the daily commute and dedicate these hours to studying or attending other duties. You can also follow your classes from the comfort of your living room.
- Added Incentives – many employers might offer you the chance to return to college and even allow you to save on fees. Studying online is an excellent compromise to keep your job while leveraging incentives and partnerships offered by your employer.
- Keep up with existing commitment – if the inability to leave your kids at home or paying for childcare has always been stopping you from attending classes, online courses can be an accessible solution to the issue.
- Pursue the education path you wanted – many adults feel like their responsibilities related to the household, workplace, and family keeps them from having the time to return to college. Online courses can help you juggle these duties and pick the major you want, regardless of how many classes or credits it requires.
- Pick the ideal college – While younger students might have the chance to move to another state or country to complete their degree, leaving behind your family might not be a viable choice for most adults. Online courses close the distance between you and the highly-reputable school you had in mind to attend.
The primary concerns associated with this choice include the fear of having to learn new technologies and software, as well as the opinion of future and current employers.
However, online learning platforms are always becoming more seamless, intuitive, and easy to use, even by non-tech savvy. Moreover, over 36% of employers report considering online and on-campus education to be equally excellent choices.
6. Your life experiences are your strength
One of the unique advantages you can benefit from while returning to college is the professional and personal experiences under your belt. Aside from helping you to overcome practical obstacles and fears, you can also obtain some credits from them.
- Credit for military experience, training, or service
- Prior Learning Assessment Portfolio (an essay that states the skills and knowledge you acquired through non-college classes and courses). Each university will have diverse requirements and offer you different credits for it.
- Exams (by stating your current knowledge you might be able to skip or forgo certain classes)
7. Identify your learning style
After spending many years away from a classroom, you might not remember what your academic learning style truly is. And even if you do, it can often change throughout life, depending on the experiences you have gone through and your job.
Before signing up and diving head-first into your new course, you need to figure out your preferred learning approach to absorb as much knowledge as you can. This is essential to identify your style, evaluate your preferences, weaknesses, and strengths that can impact your learning journey.
While understanding the way younger students learn is usually the responsibility of the teacher, as an adult student, you need to understand your own to avoid unnecessary struggles.
There are three ways we all learn – visually, by hearing, and by doing. Understanding your predominant method allows you to study smarter and cut down on the hours of hard work.
8. Listen to others’ advice, but make your own decisions
Putting your desire to go back to college in action while in a vacuum might not lead to the benefits you wanted to achieve. Before the big move, ask any other person you know to share his or her experience about returning to college. If none of your friends have done so before, online resources, forums, and social media platforms can be an excellent starting point.
In any case, you should avoid making the same decision they made if you feel like they are not right for you. There are indeed some generic majors that can help you kick-start your career after college more than others. However, you should pick the environment and field of study based only on your goals and personal preferences.
9. Rethink your schedule
A common mistake for adults returning to college is believing that they can just make up time to study along the way. However, we all live hectic professional and personal lives, and without rethinking your schedule, you might end up cutting down on study time.
Before signing up for a course – whether this is on-campus or online – identify how much time you can effectively dedicate to it weekly. If this turns out to be an adequate amount, start your application!
Once all ready and waiting to attend the first class, you should have more information regarding your timetable and how the lessons are structured. Now, you can plan a weekly schedule that allows you to keep yourself on track with exams, revisions, projects, and study time.
Don’t be afraid of trial and error! There is no perfect timetable that fits all situations, so you might have to readjust it as you get along with your course. However, you should start by identifying priorities and setting realistic goals. To manage stress levels and anxiety, avoid letting things add up and sort out quicker tasks straight away, without waiting for a day off to resolve them all.
10. Rethink your finances
While we all prefer to avoid the topic, having realistic expectations of how much money is available to you can make a difference in whether you can complete your degree or not. Instead, budgeting from the start can allow you to stay within limits throughout the terms.
Some tips to save up are:
- Pick a college near your home to save on rent and commuting times.
- Find out what credits you can obtain from your job or military experiences.
- Most universities make available grants and scholarships and apply for one.
- Take a pre-assessment test to find out whether you can forego some of the classes.
- Opt for online college to save on rent, commute, meals, and some study materials. These courses are usually more affordable than on-campus ones.
11. Get support at home
If you have opted for on-campus classes, it might be challenging to leave your children or aging parents at home without the necessary care. On the other hand, child care and caregivers can take a toll on the family’s finances. However, failing to get the required, reliable support at home can make you end up missing classes and projects.
Instead, you should opt to return to college at the right moment, when you only need minimal support at home. Even in this case, consider asking family members to support you with your choice and look after chores and responsibilities while you are studying.
12. Stay positive, but take it seriously
While all these tips can seem quite a lot to take on, the most important thing to remember is to stay excited and positive! You are returning to college, something that will turn out to be a life and career-bettering experience. Go ahead and enjoy every moment of it.
However, ensure you are taking this big step seriously, to make the most out of it. When you are writing assignments or concluding a project, put all your efforts into it. This attitude will gain you the respect of other students and teachers, who, in tune, will help you out when you need a hand.
Undoubtedly, going back to college is exciting, but it can also be a scary and intimidating move for most adults. However, you will not be the only one there, and support is always available.
Some of the things to remember before applying are to rethink your finances and schedules, come up with realistic goals and expectations, and make sure that you have the support you need from both students and family members. Moreover, online courses and schools welcoming adult learners can be an excellent opportunity if you are not so willing to compromise.
While trying to keep on track with the many tasks, remember to stay positive, build relationships, and enjoy every aspect of returning to college!
- Rush University: 6 Time Management Tips for Busy Adult Students
- Cornerstone University: 7 Reasons More Adults Are Going Back to School
- NSC Research Center: Completing College – National – 2018
- Psychology Today: Personal Change: Realistic Expectations With Positive Thinking
- USA Today: 60% of Americans have to retire sooner than they’d planned
- HeinOnline: The Inseparability of Professionalism and Personal Satisfaction: Perspectives on Values, Integrity, and Happiness
- Workplace Psychology: Self-Actualization, Realizing Your Potential
- Wikipedia: Self-Paced Learning
- Best Colleges: 2019 Online Education Trends Report
- MilitaryBenefits: College Credit for Military Service & Experience
- ResearchGate: Learning Style and its importance in Education
- Stanford University: Knowing Your Learning Style Can Help College Success
- Syracuse University: 8 Time Management Tips for Adult College Students
- Forbes: 10 Ways To Cut The Cost Of Going Back To College