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Going Back to College

When adults choose to go back to college later in life.

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10 Tips for Adults Considering College

  • Jan 29, 2010
  • by
As a person who returned to school at age 35, with three teenagers, worked a full-time job and earned a physics degree, I understand what it’s like for the older student who chooses to go back to school. I learned many things along the way.

My best advice is to ask questions, read the catalog, research grants and scholarships available to you, then ask more questions. Below are just a few things to think about and consider when making your decisions.

1) Attitude is everything - If you charge right in, eager to learn, and you are willing to put forth the effort it takes, succeeding at school is possible. You are only as old as your attitude. Don’t let other people’s attitudes influence yours. You can do this. Ask questions in class. Ask questions after class. Your professors, for the most part, will appreciate your effort.

2) Childcare and dorms - Some colleges offer childcare and living quarters for single mothers, such as Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA. Through our experiences, my kids and I have found that renting an apartment is almost always cheaper than staying in the dorms. When making decisions regarding your living arrangements, be sure to ask about mandatory freshman cafeteria plans if you are going to stay on campus. These can usually be waived if you live close to campus.

3) Online courses - Many accredited state universities offer online courses for a variety of subjects. My children and I have taken several of these types of classes at the University of North Alabama. If you take an online course with plans to go on to a four- year university, be sure to ask the admissions office of the university you are planning to attend if the credit is transferable so that you are not throwing your money away.

4) Ask Google - Search the web for grants and scholarship opportunities according to your situation. There’s a SMART grant for science majors, a TEACH grant for education majors. Pell grants are also available if you meet income qualifications.

5) Go to www.fafsa.ed.gov - Read everything and apply early. If you plan to attend in the fall, apply now. As soon as you get your taxes filled out, go to the website and fill out the FAFSA. You will need to have your tax documents available when you fill out the application. If you need assistance, use the online help at their website. You can also inquire at the Financial Aid Office of any college. Make an appointment to see them and discuss available funding opportunities.

6) Read the school’s catalog - Really read it. Make sure you find out if the university requires an entrance exam like the ACT for older students. Find out if they require the writing part of the exam. It is very important to know ahead of time what tests are required for admission so that you can be fully prepared.

7) Talk to Admissions - The Admissions Office or advisers usually have a worksheet showing how many hours and what types of classes are needed to graduate over and above what is required by your major. Ask for it. Most universities have policies about how many courses are required in all subjects beyond what is listed in the section for your major.

8) Local scholarships - Ask the Admissions Office for a list of scholarships given by the different clubs or departments at the university. If you are currently working, ask your employer if there are grants available from the company or if they have a tuition reimbursement program.

9) Admissions policy - Ask for the admissions policy for older returning students. Ask about the process turning experience into credits towards graduation. The military does this all the time with servicemen and also civil servants. It is becoming more common.

10) Withdrawal policy - Ask about the withdrawal policy and know when the last day is to withdraw. Keep in mind that it is better to withdraw than to fail a class. You can explain a withdrawal at an interview, but low GPA’s usually don’t produce interviews for jobs.

Going back to school is a lot of work. Asking questions makes some people feel stupid. Don’t let it. The best scientists in the world made all their discoveries because they wouldn’t stop asking questions. You really can go back to school and successfully graduate. Asking the right questions will help make it a better experience.

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March 26, 2012
I was 28 when I passed the CPA exam and 50 when I passed the EIT-Engineering In Training bar.
March 26, 2011
These are great tips! If you're a working adult and going to be studying something you can relate to your career, ask your employer about tuition reimbursement as well. A lot of companies offer it as a benefit. Thanks :)
June 08, 2010
Great tips. I went back to school post-kids, too, completed my Masters and now I'm teaching mostly "returning" adults at a Community College. Absolutely the best decision I ever made.
February 03, 2010
what good tips, never too old to learn, I always thinking of going back to the college for post-graduation, but havn't take any action till now, I should make my mind soon...
February 02, 2010
Thanks for these tips, and I will keep these in mind for when my daughter is ready to go. Nice Job!
February 01, 2010
This is a great review, Mary.  I know that you wrote this with adults going back to college in mind, but I think this is also a great list for anyone planning to go to college period, too!  This is really awesome advice and I'm sure people who are following the education content on Lunch will appreciate it.  Thanks for sharing!
January 30, 2010
Really good points! And congratulations on getting your degree. As online courses become more popular and the quality of the classes continue to improve, it seems like that is a nice, flexible option for everyone who wants to keep learning. Thanks for sharing this!
More College in Adulthood reviews
Quick Tip by . January 29, 2010
10 tips on going back to college. - It was the best decision that I ever made for myself and my family.
About the reviewer
Mary Elissa Williams ()
Ranked #157
I'm usually thinking out of the box. I have been a homeschooler for about 15 or so years with 3 children in college,1 dual enrolled in highschool. I ran my own business as a family entertainer / birthday … more
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Adult education is the practice of teaching and educating adults. This often happens in the workplace, through 'extension' or 'continuing education' courses at secondary schools, at a college or university. Other learning places include folk high schools, community colleges, and lifelong learning centers. The practice is also often referred to as 'Training and Development'. It has also been referred to as andragogy (to distinguish it from pedagogy). A difference is made between vocational education, mostly undertaken in workplaces and frequently related to upskilling, and non-formal adult education including learning skills or learning for personal development. 
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