Want to go back to school? Here’s how you get started.
Graduation season is in full swing, with proud families and friends looking on as this year’s grads receive their college degrees.
Beneath these graduates’ seemingly identical caps and gowns are individuals with incredibly different stories, struggles and accomplishments. Many of them don’t fit the “traditional” mold of a college graduate. For example, some students have fulltime jobs or families to care for, and some already have decades of work experience under their belts.
Adult learners account for a substantial portion of students in higher education. The U.S. Department of Education found that in 2016, students over the age of 24 accounted for nearly two-fifths of postsecondary enrollment.
“I’ve seen firsthand the drive of working adults to return to college and the challenges they face juggling their lives and their education,” said Timothy P. Slottow, president of the University of Phoenix. “The unique needs of these students matter. As a parent or full-time employee, you require flexibility and structure. As a professional, you require a career-relevant program, aligned to skills and competencies in your field. As an ambitious individual, you deserve committed faculty members with experience in their fields.”
There are a few simple steps that working adults considering a return to school can take to get the most out of the experience. Slottow offers the following advice:
Put your support system in place.
As a working adult returning to school, remember that you are not alone. Think about the people you lean on for support — significant others, children, employers, etc. Make sure your support system knows your goals and that they are committed to encouraging you along the way.
Do your homework before you start school.
Visit with academic counselors to determine which programs best fit your goals. Also, talk with a financial adviser to plan for the costs of your education. You may find it easier to attend schools that offer access to counselors who can keep you motivated and on track. Look for an institution that has resources and networks that align with your goals.
Leverage personal experience. Every college and university will view your work and educational histories differently. Consider schools that offer credit for prior learning and work experience. If you have a military background, ask about credit for your military experience.
Formulate a plan.
It is possible to work full time and be a full-time student: Schools that have flexible but structured scheduling can allow you to attend school full time while managing other responsibilities. Some programs may offer classes entirely online, while some will expect you to be at a campus one or more times a week. Before you enroll, know what you are committing to. Utilize the flexibility of programs such as online or night classes to ensure that your life outside school also remains a priority.
“Choosing to begin or complete your higher-education journey as a working adult is a complicated decision,” Slottow said. “The importance of providing access and opportunity to working adults who aspire to continue their education cannot be overstated. That is why students must learn what options exist, and institutions must provide the flexibility, structure and career-relevant programs that working adult students need to succeed.”
Just as numerous students are taking the final step in accomplishing their goal of graduating from college this spring, many more will make the first step in pursuing that goal by enrolling in college programs.