More and more adults are going to college in their mid-to-late 20s, 30s and beyond. Maybe they never got a chance to go when they were just out of high school, or perhaps they dropped out. Maybe they have a degree, but they’re looking to change careers now. Whatever the reason, while it can be great to see others nearer your own age when you’re returning to school, it can still feel like everyone knows what you’re doing except for you. Of course, this is not really the case, but when your resolve starts to waver, it can help to remind yourself that you’re actually focused and well-prepared. The tips below can help ensure that this is the case.
Know Your Why
Why are you going back to school? If you went but dropped out or went but ended up with a degree that took you into an unsatisfying career, you might not have really known why you were there in the first place. As an 18-year-old fresh out of high school, it might have seemed like you had all the time in the world to figure things out. This time around, you’re probably more acutely aware of what this will cost you in time and money, so it’s important to have a clear picture of what you hope to achieve in the next few years.
Find Support in Your Personal Life
People can overcome all kinds of obstacles to reach their goals, but it’s going to be a lot less difficult to succeed if you have positive agents of socialization and can get others in your corner. If you have a job, it would be ideal if your employer encouraged you and helped with a schedule to work around your classes. However, this isn’t always possible. Even if your employer is indifferent or hostile, you can still look to your family for support, which is ultimately more important. If you’re in a relationship, talk to your partner about your reasons for going back and the adjustments you may need to make.
If you have children, older kids might be able to pick up some domestic tasks. While some parents may feel guilty about taking time away from their children, keep in mind as well that you can be a great positive role model for your children.
Have a Financial Plan
Cost is often the biggest obstacle that keeps people from going to college. However, there are a number of ways that you can get money for your education. Some employers may cover a portion of tuition. You can also see if you qualify for any scholarships or federal aid. Looking at private student loans is another option. These loans from private lenders can be especially attractive to nontraditional students since they may have built up a favorable credit rating that means they get lower interest rates. Keep in mind as well that a college degree is generally a predictor of higher lifetime earnings, so while you may be paying back loans, you may also be making much more money than you would have otherwise.
Have an Academic Plan
Of course, you need more than a financial plan. You also need an academic plan. This is where you take the big vision you have for your future and drill down to the specifics. What classes do you need to take? Will you go full time or part time, and if the latter, how long will it take you to finish? What kinds of grades are you trying to achieve, and what will it take to get them? Will you take classes online, in person or you will go for a hybrid schedule? When will you fit the classes and study time into your life? At the start of each semester, sit down with a calendar and map out all your deadlines to give you a clear picture of what you need to do.
Get Support on Campus
Most colleges and universities have resources aimed at nontraditional students. There may be organizations you can join and other ways to connect with other students like you. In addition, you should feel free to drop by your professors’ offices and discuss your challenges with them. They may be able to offer some tips on study skills, but chances are you are doing better than you think. Nontraditional students often excel and have much more motivation than younger students.