Ah, those hallowed walls of academia! Ah, those unwashed dishes and unrelenting schedules!
Many people who have successful careers or have raised their kids to adulthood — or both — consider going back to school. And you may be one of them. Perhaps you want the degree you postponed, or a second one. Perhaps you want to improve your prospects for a promotion, earn more money or start a second career you’ll love. Or maybe you just want a different perspective on the world.
Whatever the reason, going back to school demands time, money and commitment, so it isn’t a decision you should take lightly. Here are a few tips that may help ease your journey back into the world of colleges and universities:
Find the right fit. A student handbook is an essential tool. Read it before you apply to a college or university. The handbook provides details of the range of services and support available to students as well as the school’s educational policies and regulations. The handbook is also often available online from the school’s website. The handbook can help you determine if the school meets your needs, with factors such as affordability, easy access, childcare, expanded degree options, well-developed online learning programs or seamless credit transfers.
Map your degree. Compile a detailed list of requirements for completing a degree within your time frame. It will help you stay on track and understand where you are, where you’re going and how long it will take to get there. You don’t want to be signing up for many costly classes that wont’ help you accomplish your goal. That said, however, consider taking some classes just for the fun of it. While sticking to the requirements can save time and money, you run the risk of burnout if they stop energizing you.
Find an adviser. Find someone you trust and meet before you apply (and at least once each school term). Make sure the adviser is aware of your goals. Discuss all your options. Your adviser can also show you how to obtain financial aid, where to register and explain the rules for withdrawing from or switching courses.
Other resources for advice are professors as well as faculty and staff members who’ve been at the school for some time. Also, people you may know who attended the school can be a source of valuable information, particularly if they know you well.
Research your financial options. Just because you’re an adult returning to school doesn’t mean you aren’t eligible for scholarships or other forms of financial aid. While your adviser can help, do some research on your own.
If you’re working, you might want to discuss your plans with your employer, especially if you want to continue in your current field. Employers may have programs in place to subsidize employees looking to continue their education.
Many universities and colleges have scholarships and bursaries. Scholarships are generally based on academic achievement, but some also focus on community involvement (such as volunteering) or work in a specific field.
Scholarships typically have particular criteria you must meet to qualify, and many students might compete for the same scholarship. Many scholarships are open to international students as well as domestic students. You must apply for some, but others are awarded automatically.
Bursaries are usually based on both financial need and academic achievement. Bursaries and grants can also be offered through governments and private organizations.
And of course you can take out student loans and perhaps get help from family.
Make sure you completely understand any financial aid you receive. First, determine how much it costs to attend each school that awards you money. To find out, locate the Cost of Attendance (COA) breakdown in the award material (if it’s not provided or not broken down, contact the financial aid office and ask for a breakdown). Typically, the COA is the amount of tuition, books and supplies, miscellaneous fees and expenses and room and meal plans (most adult students don’t require these last two).
You’ll also want to know any student loan percentage rates and payback requirements on student loans.
Bottom line: Be sure you know just how much you’re getting and that it will be sufficient to finance your studies.
Start slow. Unlike more traditional college students, adults returning to school tend to have significant responsibilities, including families and careers. Juggling work and family is difficult on its own, but doing so with post-secondary course work is even harder. Taking things slowly can help you and your family adjust to the new schedules and demands. Many schools offer online courses, which can be especially beneficial for working professionals. They also can help you test the waters before the big plunge.
Make connections. It’s tempting to isolate yourself in order to keep on top of a busy schedule, but resist it. One of the side benefits of going back to college as an adult is being exposed to people you might otherwise not interact with. These new relationships will add to your experience and the quality of your life.
Ask for help. If there’s an area in which you’re struggling, at home or at school, ask for help. Enlist your family’s assistance with chores and errands. Tell friends what they can and can’t do to encourage you. Reach out to fellow students for lecture notes and homework help. Talk to professors and faculty about assignments and coursework, especially if you have questions or don’t understand. Contact student services to help to improve study habits or test taking.
Devise a study routine. It works for kids, and it’ll work for you. Establish your own routine at the beginning of every school term to help you keep up with your coursework, improve your time management and help ensure you meet other commitments. And create a comfortable, well-lit, designated study space that’s all your own. Not only will it keep your study time separate from your home or work life, it will serve as a physical reminder to others to let you focus without interruption or distraction.
Schedule some downtime. You know what they say about all work and no play. Resist the urge to overfill your schedule.Leave some margin in your day for exercise, sleep, helping others or just relaxing and having fun. It will help boost your mood and productivity.
Make your first few days easier by exploring the campus before you start classes. You’ll gain comfort with your surroundings and improve your chances of getting to class on time.