How to Go Back to School as an Adult Learner in 2023

Posted on April 13, 2023

Posted on April 13, 2023

While some may think of “college students” as 18 to 25-year olds, adults over the age of 25 represent about 40% of the enrollment in US higher education – nearly 8 million learners. Part of the reason is that college is more accessible than it once was, especially for adult learners balancing life’s responsibilities with school.

Whether you have some credits under your belt or you’re going to college for the first time, going to college as an adult offers plenty of opportunities, as well as some challenges. Find out how to go back to school as an adult to get the most value out of the online college journey.

Why Go Back to School as an Adult?

The decision to return to college is unique for everyone, but here are some reasons many consider going back to school as an adult:

Making a Career Change

Technology has advanced rapidly in the past few decades. For some, that means work opportunities have shifted as technology tools reduced the need for a workforce. For others, their current career has no growth opportunities – or simply doesn’t satisfy any longer.

Some adults reach maturity and realize the time is right for them to pursue a dream they’ve shelved to start a family and stick with a steady career. Whatever the reason, it’s never too late to make a change.

More Maturity

College may not be for everyone right out of high school. If you tried college the first time and chose not to stay, it could’ve been more about maturity than whether college was “right for you.” You may not have appreciated the importance of education at the time, but now that you have more life experience, you can handle – or even enjoy – your learning journey.

Filling Skills Gaps

Even the best education can become outdated after several decades out of school. The workforce is flooded with fresh college graduates who are eager to start their career – and they come with the most current information and skills for their field.

College for working adults allows you to elevate your skill set and stay current on your industry’s best practices, ensuring you’re relevant and irreplaceable as the new generation enters the workforce.

Finishing a Degree

Even with the best of intentions, life can get in the way of pursuing your degree. Children, sick family members, financial concerns, or unexpected life changes can easily derail a college career.

If you want to finish what you started, you can go back to school online and get your degree. It’ll be hard work, but you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment.

Challenges Adults Face Going Back to School

Going back to school is an exciting – but intimidating – experience. It’s very different to go back to school online vs. starting out as a traditional student. Here are some common challenges adult learners face, as well as the solutions.

Working Around a Busy Schedule

As an adult learner, you probably have to manage your classes with work, caring for family, or other responsibilities. Many adult learners attend school part time and have to work their schoolwork into their busy schedules.

Fortunately, online learning platforms for adults offer a lot of flexibility compared to on-campus programs. You can complete coursework on your own schedule, whether that’s first thing in the morning, during a quiet afternoon, or in the late hours when everyone else is sleeping. Part of this flexibility is saving time without having a commute to and from a campus.

Financial Concerns

The rising costs of college is challenging for everyone but especially adult learners. Like many, you may have a mortgage, debt, or family to support, so taking on the burden of student loans or tuition payments seems daunting.

Financial concerns don’t have to hold you back, though. You can save money with college transfer credits, choosing an affordable program, and applying for financial aid with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) When you apply, you’ll find out if you can get help through grants or loans.

But that’s not all. Scholarships and grants are available for college for working adults. It takes some time and work, but you can save a lot with these aid options.

You can also save by taking your general education courses online at an affordable institution like Sophia Learning, then transferring them to your chosen college or university. Be sure to check with your school’s advisor about the credit transfer policy, however.

Fear of Not Being Right for College

Adult learners may feel anxiety about returning to school. It could be that they fear failing their program, thinking that they’ve been out of practice for too long, worrying about keeping up with technology, or feeling out of place among young students.

These fears are understandable and relatable, but they don’t need to be an obstacle. Most adult learners feel this way, yet they persist on to earn their degree. There are numerous programs designed specifically for adult learners that cater to their unique learning needs, giving you a group of peers with similar perspectives and challenges.

If you’re still not sure, try taking a few classes on a trial basis to see if college is right for you. This is an opportunity to get back in the groove and consider your decision before committing to a full degree program.

Lack of Resources

The best advice for adults going back to college is to find – and use – your resources. Institutions that cater to adult learners offer resources to overcome common challenges to earning a degree.

For example, most schools will provide a dedicated academic advisor upon enrollment. Your advisor is your best asset to navigate your college experience and ensure success. If you run into roadblocks, your advisor can help you find academic and technical support to provide the assistance you need.

Many institutions offer additional resources to position you for success, such as career planning services, workshops, outside lectures and seminars, and group study sessions. Outside resources, such as Google searches and online texts, are more available than they once were.

How to Go Back to School as an Adult: Top Tips

Wondering how to get started? Here are some practical tips for the process:

Determine Your Degree Program and Level

Whether you’re making a career change or starting new, you should research your future career and its educational requirements. This is an important consideration for finding the right school and degree program.

For example, if you already have college credits, you can save time or money with transfer credits. If you have a bachelor’s degree and you want to make a career change to a related field, a certificate program may be a better option than a master’s degree.

Choose the Right School

It’s important to find a college that supports your needs as an adult learner. Prestige, program value, affordability, or other factors in your decision won’t matter if the school doesn’t set you up for success as a working adult.

Look for colleges that offer the programs you’re interested in, flexibility in online courses, multiple start times per year, or accelerated programs. For example, some online programs require on-campus testing or video lectures at scheduled times that don’t align with your current schedule. Consider your options and what’s most important to you.

Meet with an Admissions Counselor

Admissions counselors are a valuable resource to prepare for the application process. The counselor can help you evaluate your transfer credits and guide you through the application process, including how to submit transcripts and what documentation you will need.

Speak with an Academic Advisor

After admission, your first step is to connect with your academic advisor to determine course requirements, arrange your class schedule, and discuss any resources you may need. Your advisor has your best interests in mind, so be sure to discuss any concerns or challenges you’re facing.

Prioritize Your Schoolwork

Balancing life and school is not easy, but you can put yourself in a strong position with some preparation.

Before classes start, organize a workspace with your supplies. A calendar with important deadlines will help you organize and manage your coursework and stay ahead of schedule.

Be sure to discuss your plans with your employer and family. If possible, consider taking some days off for the adjustment to adult learning. Most employers are supportive, especially if your learning experience will benefit them.

Maintaining your home and taking care of children or family members can be challenging if you’re adding another commitment, so set a plan to divide household duties. If you’re single, find ways to reduce your responsibilities or prioritize to make time for your new endeavor.

Going Back to School with Online Learning for Adults

It’s never too late to pursue your dream. Going back to school as an adult is more accessible than it once was, giving you an opportunity to finish what your started and achieve your goals.

If you’re considering a return to school as an adult, start your free trial at Sophia Learning or explore our courses!

Category: Student Success

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