5 Tips for Going Back to School as an Adult

Earning a college degree is hard work, but becoming a student again after being out of academia for a while can add a whole new level of difficulty to the process. Unfortunately, many guides on going to college are geared towards the “traditional” student: teenagers who have recently earned their high school diplomas. That leaves everyone else, otherwise considered to be “nontraditional” students, left to fend for themselves.

Going back to school can be incredibly rewarding. Whether you’re going back to earn a second degree, want to re-enroll after dropping out of a program previously or are interested in going to college for the first time later in life, here are five tips to help you succeed. 

1. Find Your “Why”

Traditional students benefit from the continuing momentum they have from recently completing high school. They also tend to have fewer “real world” distractions, like growing families, full-time jobs and immediate financial obligations, that keep them from hitting the books. However, if you’ve been out of the school groove for a while and are juggling other responsibilities, it’s a good idea to identify your biggest motivations for wanting to go back in the first place.

Do you want to make a career change? Do you need another degree to move up in your current line of work? Is there a field of study you’re dying to dive into? Whatever your reason, find ways to incorporate it as a reminder throughout your journey. You can write it down and post it in your study space, save it as a note on your phone or computer, or share it with your friends and loved ones so they can encourage you when you need support. 

2. Identify Your Ideal Schooling Scenario

There are a wide range of paths you can take to earn a certification or degree. It’s important to think about exactly what outcome you’re pursuing, as well as what your most affordable and time-saving options are for getting there. Along with your “why,” consider the following:

  • Do you need an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, or can you achieve your goals with a certification program or a few college courses?
  • Do you want to enroll in an online, in-person or hybrid program?
  • Do you need to pursue a particular field of study, or can you pursue a general or interdisciplinary studies degree?
  • Can you enroll in a degree program that provides credit for previous work/life experience?
  • Do you have previous college credits, and can they be applied to your next degree?
  • Do you want to be a full-time or part-time student?
  • Can you take classes on weekdays, or do you need to find programs that offer night and weekend classes?

As you explore your options, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Ask career counselors, academic advisors and mentors to help you zero in on the best type of schooling for you. If you’re continuing your studies to help you in your current position, review things with your supervisor to make sure you’re getting the exact training your workplace is looking for.

3. Think Through Tuition

One of the biggest obstacles to education for both traditional and nontraditional students is money. Fortunately, there are still ways for adult learners to save on school costs:

  • Public universities are typically more affordable than private institutions, but private schools tend to offer more scholarships. Be sure to check in with each school’s financial aid office and compare prices before committing to a program.
  • Community colleges offer certificates and associate degrees at more affordable rates than 4-year institutions. Even if you’re pursuing a bachelor’s degree, you can use community college courses to your advantage: knock out general education credits there, then transfer them to your future alma mater.
  • In addition to financial awards from your school, you might be able to cash in on grants and scholarships geared towards nontraditional students.
  • If you’re pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree, look for schools that offer graduate assistant and teaching assistant positions. You may need to be a full-time student to qualify, but many provide tuition waivers in addition to a salary.
  • Some workplaces, like Target, Starbucks, UPS and Publix, help their employees pay for school. You may be limited in your degree choices or be required to stay with the company for a set amount of time after you graduate, but furthering your education on your company’s dime is a better deal than paying for everything on your own.

4. Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Worried that you’ll feel out of place when you’re back on campus? You’re definitely not alone. In fact, nontraditional students are much more common than you think: about 20% are over 30, 25% are caring for children, and 47% go to school part time at some point during their studies.

Despite the statistics, many adult learners find themselves worried about keeping up with the workload. In addition to leaning on your friends and family for support, be sure to use all school resources available to you. Take advantage of your professor’s office hours, and keep in touch with your academic advisor. Don’t forget to contact your school’s student support offices to learn about tutoring, writing and mentoring services.

5. Manage Your Time

At some point or another, many nontraditional students find themselves trying to answer the age-old question: how do I find the time to do all of this? 

Coursework, full-time jobs and family responsibilities can be tricky to balance, but it’s not impossible to do it all. Try these tips to make it happen:

  • Schedule out everything. And yes, we mean everything! It may feel like overkill to map out work, classes and study time in your planner. However, scheduling chores, work outs, meals and sleep — in addition to your work and school responsibilities — allows you to pencil in the time you’ll need to decompress and relax, too. 
  • Be transparent with your loved ones about your back-to-school journey. Work with your spouse to split household responsibilities and keep your friends up-to-date on your class schedule. 
  • Keep your workplace in the loop, and negotiate for schedule flexibility. Depending on your courses and your job, you may even be able to find ways to incorporate your work assignments into your school assignments, allowing you to maximize your time while also impressing your professors and bosses! 
  • Embrace multi-tasking. Study while working out, listen to lectures while running errands, and fit homework in during your lunch hours and work breaks.
  • Use your academic advisor as a resource. They can help map out each semester of your program and clue you in on which courses may require more time and effort than others. If things happen and you need to pull out of a course or pause for a semester, your advisor can help you make changes to your plan and keep you as close to your graduation target as possible.

More Advice on College

We may not be able to give you a degree in financial literacy, but we can give you more money knowledge while you work towards graduation day. Check out these blogs from Top Dollar:

Similar Posts