Tips for Adults Returning to School

Life happens whether you’re ready for it or not. Once you get a full time job and have other commitments like a house or family to take care of, it may seem like going back to school is out of reach for you. Maybe it’s just not practical based on the financial and time commitments needed to succeed in school.

I’m here to tell you that there are colleges out there for you that will work with you on your financial and time concerns to ensure you have an opportunity to continue your education. If you aren’t happy with your current career choice or have hit a dead end, consider returning to school.

If you’ve decided to head back to school, what are some things to look for in a college that are friendly towards returning students?

Choosing a Major

Before rushing into the college search, take some time out and consider what you want to study. As an adult you probably already have several years of work experience under your belt. Now the question to ask yourself, do I want to go deeper and learn more about what I am already doing so I can advance in my current career? Or do I want to completely start over with something new? Now is the time to decide for sure before you invest your precious time and money into years of education.

My recommendation is to start with a free personality test and Majors Match tool. Not only will reading the results help you learn more about yourself, you'll also be matched up to some majors that are good fits for your strengths and interests.

Money isn't everything, but salary potential in a given field should be a consideration before you make your decision so you know you won't be wasting money with a degree. Check out the following articles to help you further explore your options:

Once you’ve picked a few majors you are interested in, it’s time to start thinking about where you want to go to school.

Online vs. Onsite

At some point you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to attend remotely or if you will want to attend onsite. Attending onsite will give you the traditional college experience and much more face to face interaction with other students and the faculty. However, attending online will likely be more flexible for you.

Think about the way you learn best. Can you dedicate a spot in your home to attend class remotely, study and do homework without interruptions? You’ll also have to be okay with less face to face interactions with both peers and faculty. Don’t get me wrong – online education and technology in general has come a long way in the last decade making it easier than ever to communicate with your peers.  

If remote learning won’t work for you, be sure to check out campus colleges to see if they offer your desired program in a night class setting.

Many students doe their best in some sort of hybrid program, where they can take the majority of their classes online, but can still show up for a class once a week and connect with students and professors. Don't settle on one option until you explore all the possibilities!

Balancing School, Work and Life

Balancing work and life can be hard, but tossing school into the mix may be overwhelming. Find a school that is able to offer courses on a schedule that you can work with. Be sure to consider the amount of time you’ll be spending on instruction, studying, homework and your current job. It’s critical for you to have downtime as well so be sure to allocate some time each day to sit and relax and give your mind a break.

Financial Aid

Just because you’re out there on your own doesn’t mean you won’t qualify for financial aid. When considering schools, be sure that the school financing will fit within your budget. Don’t forget to apply for the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to see what you will qualify for.

Some schools will also offer grants and scholarships for specific programs or for adult learners. If you are looking to obtain further education and stick with your current employer, you may want to see if they offer any kind of tuition reimbursement program – especially if your line of work and college program will be related. If you can make a case that your education will benefit your company they may be willing to foot a portion of the bill. Just be prepared to commit to staying at your current employer for a set period of time.

When looking at private colleges, understand that most students don't pay the full sticker price that is listed. Many private colleges have very generous financial aid packages. However, you'll what to find out specifically what is offered to non-traditional students to get a good idea of what it will cost for you. 

Finding the Right School

Now that you've put some thought and effort into finding out what you need you are most of the way there! One tool you can use to automatically begin building your college list is College  Match. This tool will help you narrow in on the schools that actually meet your criteria and fit your budget.

There are thousands of colleges out there so don’t be discouraged if the first few you look into won’t work with your schedule and budget. Keep searching and you’ll eventually find the perfect match for you.