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Adult College Preparation Checklist

Back to College Checklist and Preparation Tips for Returning Adults

I still remember my high school buddy, Helen. She always had curiosity lingering in her eyes. The poor girl dreamt of being a chemistry professor one day and ended up as a high-school dropout working full-time jobs after her father died. 

Life will push you down sometimes, but you can always get back up.  here we have some tips for adults returning to college.

Going back to college as an adult with years of study gap can either be challenging or smooth, depending on how you strategize. And a prep checklist is just what you need to keep your to-dos up and organized.

From personal experience, “Plan correctly and prepare accordingly” should be the motto of anyone aspiring to be a college student. And I can help you with that. 

Follow my college prep checklist properly and your dream job won’t feel like a dream any longer, I promise. You can download the checklist from here.

Before Anything Else

There are some prerequisites before you start worrying about your college education, like career goals and high school education requirements. Let’s see–

1. Right Mindset

Getting into the right mindset is the first priority if you wish to go back to college. I know it sounds challenging and it actually is. But you can never unveil your untapped potential if you’re afraid to even try in the first place. 

Remember that fear is the mind killer and believing in yourself goes a long way for achieving success in any endeavor. So, pick yourself up and make yourself ready for the challenges that are coming. here are some tips for overcoming fear.

2. High School Education

To get into college, you’ll require a high school diploma or an equivalent degree. I’d suggest dropouts join high-school equivalent programs and write the corresponding exams, like GED and HiSET, as soon as possible before planning for college.

3. Schedule Your Time

It’s difficult to work a job and continue a college education at the same time, but not impossible. And proper scheduling can help you with that. 

Before thinking of a college education, assess how much time you’ll work and how much you invest in your studies. Understand what time setup would be the best choice for you and plan accordingly.

4. Career Goal

Career Goal

Before going to college, why do you want to go? 

You need to know the kind of job or the career line you wish to pursue first. Having a clear idea about these aspects will help you find the best-suited program for yourself. 

Or you may just want to earn a decent living. In that case, you need to learn which jobs pay well. You can research about available career options and their popularity from the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

For something more interactive and less boring, you can use the career search engine of the US dept of Labor.

5. Career Requirements

Fixing a particular job as a favorite won’t be enough. You need to know what skills that job demands and look for programs that can make you an expert in those particular skills.

Adult College Preparation Checklist

Besides finding the right program or college, several points, like document preparation, standardized tests, etc., must make it into your college admission checklist. Let’s find out what they are.

Find the Right College Program

Once you’re clear about your career choice, find the best programs that’ll fulfill your requirements. 

You can get the help of your potential employer in this case. He knows well about the skills your job requires to be efficient at it. 

Find the skills or knowledge you’ll need to learn and use the campus navigator to locate the best options for you. Your employer can also suggest schools if he knows.  

Know the College Admission Requirements and Timeline 

Done Making a Shortlist? 

Good! Now, know what these schools require to validate your academic background and intention. 

Typically, schools want a CV, 1 or 2 letters of recommendation, and motivation letter with specific requirements, and their official academic documents. 

School timeline is another important factor. 

College application, document submission window, and funding application these factors must be done within a deadline. 

My advice is to create an Excel file. There, you can list your desired college and programs and note their deadlines and requirements. 

The following factors need to be prioritized by all returning students –

1. Application Deadlines

Before anything else, mark the application submission deadlines for your target colleges in bold. 

Early decision and action applications are usually due in November, while regular decision applications need to be filed between January 1st and March 1st

2. Testing Dates

Then, mark the dates for your required SAT or ACT tests. Most students sit for them in the winter, while others sit for retakes of the same tests in the spring or fall. Remember the registration deadlines for these tests as well!

3. Financial Aid Deadlines

For those seeking financial assistance and scholarships, it is crucial to be aware of the deadlines for filing financial aid applications like the CSS PROFILE and FAFSA.

4. Notification Dates

Whether you’re applying to several target colleges or just one, it’s important to keep note of their notification dates for acceptance, rejection, or waitlisting in order to help you prepare for the next step or plan B. 

5. Offer Comparison

You would probably land more than one offer from different colleges if you had played your cards right until now. Since you’ll have to choose only one, make sure you choose the one most suitable for you.

Choosing among these offers involve assessing a few crucial factors, like tuition fee, subject preference, chances of securing grants and scholarships, on-campus jobs (if required).

6. Enrollment Deposit Deadline

Knowing the deadline for submitting an enrollment deposit to secure a place at the chosen college is vital. For regular decision applicants, the enrollment deposit needs to be sent around May 1st

Early decision applicants need to have their deposit sent in earlier, but the date might vary. 

7. Special Considerations

The student should be made aware of any particular requirements or submission deadlines for programs like honors colleges, specialized scholarships, or transfer admissions.

8. Acceptance and Matriculation Requirements

It’s critical for all accepted students to know any extra procedures or demands placed on them, such as turning in final transcripts or attending orientation.

Write Standardized Tests

Write Standardized Tests

Your desired college admission may require attending standardized tests like the SAT or ACT. Some college programs also have entrance exams. I always hated standardized tests because they can be pretty demanding and annoying.

They can be specifically painful for adult students who have years of study gap. But there are no alternatives other than to study hard for these tests. 

They are well-designed to assess a student and if you give enough time and effort, getting a good score isn’t difficult. 

Have a look–

Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)  

The SAT exam helps colleges to judge a student’s knowledge, aptitude, and capability to cope under pressure. You’ll need $60 to register for the test. 

It is an exam in the 400-1600 score range and mainly has two different sections, EBRW and Math. The EBRW section can be further split into two different parts: reading and writing. 

American College Test (ACT)    

The ACT evaluates a student’s knowledge, aptitude, and critical thinking. It has four different mandatory sections (English, Math, Reading, and Science) and one optional writing section. Registering for the test without the writing part costs $36.50. With writing, the test registration goes up to $52.50.

Document Collection

Preparing and collecting the required application materials is a time-consuming matter. And you’ll never know when the deadline will sneak up on you, trust me. 

So, it’s better to start preparing early.

Key documents that schools demand include –

  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Academic Transcript (High School)
  • Recommendation Letters
  • Motivation Letter or Personal Statement
  • Standardized Test Scores

Your CV, recommendation letters, and statements play a great role in securing your admission to a certain program. Craft them wisely according to the college requirements and you’re good to go. 

Finance – Minimum Economic Stability

Adult students coming back to college are likely to already have a paying job as well as life expenses. So, the question comes as to which programs you can afford and how. 

There are for-profit and not-for-profit college programs for you to choose from. 

Sometimes, certain colleges want to exploit adult students while charging them higher. You need to mark those programs and stay away. 

Don’t forget about FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Filling up this form puts you on the contender list for federal student aid as well as college grants and scholarships. 

The application portal starts opening on October 1. Give this link here a visit to know when the FAFSA portal opens in your state. 

You can also apply for low-interest student loans to smooth out your journey. This information can be learned by thorough research and consulting school committees and advisors. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Back to College Checklist and Preparation

What is credit transferring for college dropouts?

You can transfer the majority share of your completed credits to your newly admitted program if you’re a previous college dropout. I say the majority share because the validity of different course credits depends on your old program and how many years you were away from college.

Are online programs viable?

Yes, definitely. And they’re getting more and more popular with adult students every day. Online programs have a lot of flexibility, which helps working mature students. They’re also easier to bunk, so it’s about your choice and dedication.


Nothing can stop you from getting the college degree you wish to attend and complete. You just got to prep and approach right. Take insights from my college admission checklist, plan smartly, and show doggedness. 

I can guarantee you that no programs will be out of your reach. Wish you all the best!


  • Barriers in returning to learning: Engagement and support of adult learners (27th May 2015) by Rabourn, K. E.; Shoup, R.; BrckaLorenz, A.
  • Back to school : an observational study of adult students at secondary school (1988) by (Cocklin, Barry)
  • Experiences of Returning Adult Learners: Application of Positive and Negative Emotional Attractors Aligned with Self-Determination Theory; The International Journal of Adult, Community and Professional Learning (2021) by Surdick, Renee; Bockes, Beth; Wong, Yun Leng.

Emily Watson
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