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Returning to School as an Adult

Are you ready to begin or go back to school?

Going to college or entering a job training program is a big decision. You have to be in the right frame of mind to succeed at getting a credential or finishing your degree.

There are many reasons adults over age 25 return to school. Some are planning a career change or need new skills or credentials to move up in their career. Others enroll for personal development or after there has been a change in their life situation.

There are a number of things to consider:

  • Identify what your reasons are for going to school.
  • Consider the pros and cons.
  • Be realistic about the time commitment and energy involved in taking classes.
  • Figure out how you will pay for tuition, books, and other expenses.
  • Do your homework about programs and schools to find the right fit.
  • Decide whether you want to go part time, full time, or take online classes.
  • Explore options to earn college credit from prior learning or by exam.
  • Think about if you want to enter a multi-year program, or take an accelerated, shorter program.

Returning to School

You may feel like you are in unknown territory and need some extra guidance. There are many steps you need to take before you begin your first class.

  • Schedule a campus visit or attend an admission event for adult learners.
  • Make an appointment with someone in student services or admissions that supports adult learners. They can help you navigate through the admissions process.
  • Order your transcripts from any previous colleges you attended or your high school.
  • Complete any required admissions tests or placement evaluations and assessments.
  • Fill out the admissions application. This can often be done online. Some admission requirements for may not apply to older students.
  • Apply for financial aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). There is no age limit for federal or state aid.
  • Make an advising or counseling appointment to help chose your class schedule and make a graduation plan.
  • Sign up for classes.

If you are returning from the military:

  • Seek out a veteran's counselor on campus. Transitioning to civilian life is a challenge, and adjusting to school can be difficult. Other students your age will not be coming from the same experiences as you and may not be as mature.
  • You will be in a less structured environment and it may take some getting used to.
  • Start the admission and military financial aid process early.
  • Remember that your military transcript may be worth college credit.

Adjusting to School

A non-traditional student often has delayed enrollment in college for various reasons. These students usually attend school part time, work full time, are financially independent, and often have children or other family that depend on them. Some adult learners over age 25 need to earn their high school diploma before enrolling.

Adult learners face many challenges that younger students don't:

  • They worry that they don't have good study skills.
  • They think they don't have time for it.
  • They don't think they can afford to go to school because of other financial commitments.
  • They may be intimidated by the college environment and worried about feeling isolated.
  • They often have to juggle career, family, and school responsibilities.

Despite the challenges, many adults decide to attend school. According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, a third of all Minnesota undergraduates attending college in 2009 were 25 or older.

Easing the transition:

  • Take advantage of lower-pressure learning opportunities, such as refresher classes, to get to know the academic environment.
  • Start on a part-time basis rather than jumping in full time.
  • Be a positive role model, respect diversity, and be assertive in the classroom. You will be interacting with younger students. You may have a different lifestyle, attitude, and way of learning than the traditional, fresh-out-of-high-school student.
  • Be prepared for homework. Have a private, quiet place at home to study. Start early and allow extra time to complete assignments. Get help if you need it.
  • Be realistic about what the college environment will be like.
  • Talk with your family about how going back to school will affect home life and changes that will occur.
  • Expect to feel some stress. Students of all ages do.

Staying in School

The following are some tips to get you through that first year. They will help you stay committed to finishing school.

  • Go at your own pace to avoid being overwhelmed.
  • Seek out transitional counseling assistance and support groups. Many students leave the first year because of financial and adjustment problems.
  • Find a peer group to help you study, spend time with, and keep you on track.
  • Keep focused on your short and long-term goals.
  • Expect money to be tight while you are in school. Look for ways to cut back on expenses.
  • Create a school schedule well in advance to allow for family commitments. Get extra help with household chores.
  • Keep to a regular study schedule.
  • Learn to say "no" to activities and requests you don't have time for.
  • Take time for yourself and your family to relax and stay connected.
  • Involve yourself in campus activities.
  • Exercise, and take frequent breaks from the routine of work, home, and school.
  • Meet with your advisor or counselor regularly to help plan your class schedule so you complete your credential or degree on time and other guidance.
  • Don't get discouraged or give up. Take one semester at a time.