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Tips for Adults Returning to College

Tips for Adults Returning to College (From Real Life Experience)

The thrilling yet daunting feeling of standing on the cusp of a transformative journey back into the world of education as an adult might seem new to you; however, it’s an experience shared by many. 

I haven’t personally dealt with this problem; nonetheless, I have many friends, family, and colleagues who have—I even learned from one. 

I’ll take you through the top 13 tips I have gathered while living vicariously with these people. Hopefully, these will help you overcome the nervousness of embarking on this journey and maximize your success. 

What You Need to Know Before Returning to College as an Adult

Before enrolling in a program or pursuing a college degree, adult students returning to college need to prepare like all students do. According to this study, adult learners are at high risk for academic underachievement and dropping out.

Prior to resuming your academic pursuits, contemplate on the following.

Know Your Goals and Motivations

  • What made you want to return to school?
  • What goals do you have for college?

Some common reasons why adults choose to go back for their degrees are to increase their earning potential, find a new career path, complete their degree, or learn new skills

You can make more informed decisions regarding your program or degree if you have well-defined reasons for returning. 

Know Your Options and Opportunities

  • Which programs or degrees are available?
  • Do they match your goals?
  • What are the eligibility criteria, expenses, and advantages of these associate degree programs or online classes?

A thorough examination and comparison will help you make an informed decision and determine the option that most effectively meets your needs. 

Consider the adaptability, duration, accreditation, curriculum, and reputation of each program, among other factors.

Know Your Resources and Support

  • What are your financial aid options? 
  • What are your academic support services options? 
  • Do you have support networks to cope with challenges? 

Financial aid options include loans, scholarships, grants, work-study, and employer assistance. Academic support includes tutors, advisors, mentors, and counselors

Support networks majorly comprise of friends, family, and colleagues. Having these systems available to you are necessary for a successful academic journey. 

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Which abilities do you presently possess, and which ones require improvement?
  • How do these abilities relate to your selected course of study or degree? 
  • What difficulties might you encounter? 

You can overcome study-related problems, including burnout, bad time management, meeting deadlines, cramming, and revising, by making an accurate evaluation of your skills and shortcomings. 

Know Your Duties and Expectations

  • What are your obligations and objectives?
  • How do they impact your ability to combine job, life, and school? 
  • What strategies can you employ to manage them effectively? 

Finding a balance between tasks and targets can help you advance in your academic journey. 

When evaluating your obligations and expectations, it is crucial to take into account the following: attendance adherence, punctuality in assignment submissions, part-time jobs, family responsibilities, and scheduled downtime. 

13 Tips for Adults Returning to College

I asked adult learners in the United States who were going back to school, particularly those aged 25–45 years, what inspired them to pursue higher education and the most valuable advice and guidance they could offer others on a similar trajectory. 

Based on the responses gathered, I have compiled the following 13 frequently mentioned recommendations.

1. Set Clear Goals

Clearly define your reasons for returning to college. Is it to change jobs, get a new degree, or pick up new skills? 

Knowing your objectives will keep you motivated and focused.

To set proper goals, follow the SMART method—ensure your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound

For example, instead of “I want to get a better job,” say, “I want to get a bachelor’s degree in accounting by X year and apply for a senior accountant position at Y company.” 

By doing this, you can track your progress and adjust your goals accordingly. 

2. Choose the Appropriate Program

Set goals that you are enthusiastic about and take pleasure in accomplishing. The process will be less stressful if you select a major or program that aligns with your values and interests, reflects your personality, and productive. Additionally, the total costs should fit within your budget and annual income.

The program’s flexibility is measured by how effectively it can take into account your specific demands, learning preferences, and timetable

For instance, you may prefer part-time to full-time enrollment or online courses over those offered on-campus. Furthermore, programs with accelerated, self-paced, or competency-based options can be considered.

An assessment of the course offerings will provide insight regarding the extent to which the topics and skills of interest align with your program in terms of quality, variety, and relevance.

The duration of a program is also essential because it determines when you’ll obtain your degree. Depending on your busyness, budget, and goals, you can choose from a program that has a shorter or longer time frame. 

3. Financial Planning

Before applying, seek out the cost of registration and the availability of financial aid programs for your target colleges. 

Subsequently, create a budget to monitor your spending. In addition, search for part-time jobs or internships if necessary. 

Consider the cost of your education, which includes tuition, fees, books, supplies, and other expenses. Compare programs and costs, factoring in potential lost income or career advancement while learning.

Explore financial aid options such as scholarships, grants, loans, work-study, or employer assistance to help fund your education. Research eligibility, terms, and conditions of each type of aid.

Prepare and maintain a budget to manage your income and expenses. Determine available funds, required expenses, and savings or spending plans. Review and adjust your budget frequently based on your actual financial situation.

4. Time Management

Establish a study schedule, use a planner, and prioritize your tasks. Learn to ignore non-essential commitments during busy periods.

To balance work, family, and school can be challenging. Carefully organize your class schedule and study time. Online college or evening classes may provide better flexibility for a adult learner.

Your class schedule should correspond with your availability, preferences, and learning needs. Avoid taking overly challenging classes simultaneously.

To effectively manage your time for classes, assignments, and exams, develop a study schedule. Specify when, where, what, and how long you’ll study. Consistently follow and adjust the schedule as needed.

To organize tasks, deadlines, and reminders, use a planner app. Choose one that offers a clear view of your daily, weekly, or monthly agenda; syncs with your devices, provides event alerts, and tracks your progress.

Develop the skill of prioritization to identify vital or urgent tasks. Sort tasks by difficulty, value, or deadline. Prioritize based on your goals, preferences, and energy levels to maximize efficiency.

5. Build a Support Network

Share your goals with friends and family so they can provide support and encouragement. Connect with other students, particularly adult learners, to build a study group or support system.

Support, such as counseling, tutoring, and career services, are available in most colleges. Take advantage of these networks when you need help, if your target college offers them

Tutoring services are crucial for adult learners because they can help you get back into the flow of learning. Utilize online, in-person, or appointment-based tutoring options.

When you feel stressed, dissatisfied, or trapped, get help; consider using a free or inexpensive private counseling services.

For assistance with job hunting, career transitioning, or professional development, consult with advisers or coaches for career services

Lean on your friends and family, who know you well and genuinely care. They can provide emotional, practical, and financial support in challenging times and moments of celebration by sharing your goals with them.

Interact with fellow college students who understand your academic journey. They offer academic, social, and professional support; therefore, participate in study sessions, social gatherings, and network prospects with them.

Primarily, engage with other adult learners who share your experiences and challenges. They offer empathy, inspiration, and guidance, which makes them excellent study partners or sources of motivation and mentorship.

6. Stay Organized

Keep all your class materials, assignments, and important dates well-organized. Consider using digital tools, such as calendars, apps, and/or physical planners, to help you stay on top of your responsibilities.

Gather your class materials, including textbooks, notes, and handouts, and store them in a designated folder, binder, or digital cloud storage. To stay organized, label, sort, and update your materials regularly.

Track your assignments, such as essays, reports, and quizzes, in a separate folder, file, or document.  To ensure successful completion, be thorough in reviewing assignment instructions, requirements, and rubrics.

Keep your schedule organized with reminders, alarms, or notifications for important dates and meetings including deadlines and exams.

7. Stay Healthy 

Prioritize self-careget enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat healthy. Your physical and mental well-being is crucial for your academic success. 

Support your health and performance by maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet. 

To ensure you don’t fall sick, opt for foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber while avoiding foods that are high in fat, sugar, or salt.

Incorporate regular exercise into your routine to enhance strength, endurance, and flexibility. Engage in approximately 2 h of physical activity ( such as walking, jogging, swimming, or jump-roping) per week. 

Ensure you get enough restorative sleep—ideally seven hours every night—by adhering to healthy sleep habits. 

Establish a regular bedtime, avoid caffeine and alcohol before sleep, and power down electronic devices to promote quality rest for your body and mind.

8. Effective Study Habits

Develop effective study habits. Seek out a quiet and comfortable place to study; eliminate distractions, noise, and distubances; and divide your study sessions into manageable chunks of time.

Ensure it offers sufficient space, good lighting, and adequate ventilation. 

Minimize distractions that could disrupt your focus, motivation, or productivity. Silence your phone, computer, or TV, and resist the urge to check email, social media, or messages during study sessions.

Break your study sessions into manageable time intervals by adopting techniques such as the Pomodoro method—study for 25 min, followed by a 5-min break, allowing you to execute tasks in smaller, more achievable increments.

9. Seek Academic Assistance

Don’t be afraid to ask if you need assistance with your coursework. You can get help from your professors, tutors, and academic advisers.

Professors are the experts who teach and evaluate your coursework. They explain concepts, answer questions, give feedback, and provide guidance.. Talk to them during office hours, via emails, or class discussions.

Tutors are available to assist you with academic subjects, including math, writing, and languages. They can help you to review materials, solve problems, enhance your skills, and prepare for exams. Access their support online, in person, or by appointment.

Academic advisors are counselors for your academic journey, and offer guidance on your plan, progress, and objectives. Furthermore, they assist with course selection, getting college credits for experience, credit transfer, meeting requirements, and exploring educational options. 

To leverage their expertise, maintain contact with your designated advisor, visit the advising center, and attend advising sessions.

10. Stay Persistent

Difficulties may arise along the path; however, perseverance is the secret to success. Remind yourself of the reason you started this adventure.

Adult students in the United States have a low completion rate for bachelor’s degrees. According to a study by Berker, Horn & Carroll, only 62% of students complete their bachelor’s degree within six years of their initial enrollment. The researchers observed that graduates are more persistent in their studies than dropouts.

Persist in your pursuit of goals, and maintain a positive attitude, strong will, and growth mindset. Learn from mistakes, conquer fears, and actively seek feedback to overcome difficulties and obstacles.

Stay motivated by nurturing a clear vision, strong purpose, and rewarding outcome. Visualize your success, discover your passion, and celebrate incremental progress to fuel your drive and action.

Recall what prompted your return to college as an adult. Reflect on your values, interests, and aspirations to stay committed to earning a degree, learning new skills, or switching careers.

11. Flexibility and Adaptability

Be prepared to adapt to changes and unexpected events.

Develop a flexible attitude characterized by resourcefulness, innovation, and open-mindedness. Explore choices, find alternatives, and compromise as needed.

Foster adaptability to effectively navigate changes and challenges. Develop resilience, take proactive measures, and maintain a positive outlook; learn new skills, seek fresh opportunities, and embrace new experiences to enhance your adaptability;

and embrace a flexible mindset characterized by a curious, humorous, and optimistic outlook. Moreover, ask questions, find humor in challenging situations, and focus on the positive aspects to effectively handle uncertainty and complexity.

12. Celebrate Achievements

Recognize and celebrate your achievements, whether you passed an exam, finished a challenging project, or reached a milestone in your program.

These achievements can be a source of motivation and encouragement. Don’t be afraid to appreciate your efforts, progress, and results. Take pride in your achievements, keep a journal, share success stories, and, most importantly, reward yourself.

Express happiness and satisfaction by commemorating your achievements. Cultivate gratitude, stay positive, and find joy in your accomplishments. Celebrate achievements with parties, trips, or enjoyable activities.

13. Maintain a Work-Life-Study Balance

It is crucial to strike a balance between work, family, and study. Communicate with your employer and family about your commitments to ensure support.

Set time and boundaries to balance work. Share goals with your family for support and involvement in your education.

Nurture relationships with your family and friends. Seek their support and share your goals to maintain a balanced work-life-study dynamic. According to a study on Adults who attended weekend college programs, students who are satisfied with their school and have support from their family and workplace tend to experience lower stress levels.

Prioritize tasks and reward yourself in pursuit of academic goals, ensuring harmony in your work-life-study balance.

Reasons to Return to College as an Adult

While some people drop out of college to discover purpose, many others find themselves returning to complete their educational journey. 

The common reasons among adult learners going back to college to pursue their degrees include:

  • Increase your earning potential and advance your career.
  • Start a new career path or change your field of work.
  • Finish your degree or pursue a higher level of education.
  • Learn new skills, knowledge, and technologies.
  • Fulfill your personal or professional goals and interests.
  • Enjoy the academic and social benefits of college life.
  • Inspire yourself and others with your achievements.

Final Thoughts: Tips for Adult Student Returning to College Education

It is not uncommon for adults to feel alone in a class full of traditional college students. Returning to college as an adult can feel intimidating; however, it’s a rewarding experience. You can thrive and reach your goals while still having fun on your learning journey with adequate preparation, a clear plan, and support. 

I hope that these tips will enable you to maximize your academic opportunities and realize your potential. Good luck with your studies and lifelong learning!

Emily Watson
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