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Kevin Erdman 8 Things You Must Do When Re-Entering College

by Kevin Erdman

I was 24 years old and worked two full-time jobs just to pay my bills when I decided it was time to go back to college. The process of going back was challenging, arduous and confusing. Now that I am three years out of school and working full time (in a career based on my degree), I can look back and recognize several mistakes I made along the way as well as the things I did right that paid off significantly. So if you are returning to school and would like to learn from my experience, here are the eight things you must do.

1. Don't be Afraid to Participate in Extracurricular Activities.

When I returned to college I felt I owed it to myself to focus solely on my studies and ignore all the bells and whistles of the full college experience. This included participating in intermural sports, joining clubs and organizations, and taking part in study abroad and other off-campus opportunities. There were two primary reasons that I felt the need to hold back here: I simply did not have time, since I was still working full days, and I felt out of place with the traditional age students around me. The time factor presented a real obstacle and the social factor felt real.

One semester though, I had a break between two of my afternoon classes on my Tuesday-Thursday schedule, which just so happened to be the time the Tyler Literary Society met. Joining the TLS at Bucks County Community College proved to be one of my most valuable college experiences. In addition to meeting like minded students, writing and editing for the magazine, learning about publishing software and having a hands-on experience helped me greatly when it came to pursuing writing jobs after college. While the classroom taught the necessary essentials of voice, theme, tone, and literary theory, working for the TLS taught me how to apply classroom theory to real-world situations.

Finding the time (and energy) to participate in activities outside the classroom might sound impossible for non-traditional students. But if you can find an opportunity between classes or on your on-campus days, the benefits really do pay off…as long as you select a program that aligns with your long-term goals.

2. Take Time to Sit Down with a Financial Aid Adviser.

Pell grants, Stanford loans – subsidized and unsubsidized – scholarship applications and the beast that is FAFSA – oh my! Navigating the intricate web of financial aid presented one of the biggest obstacles in returning to college for me. I was fortunate though. In starting at a community college (before eventually completing my BA at a four year university) I was able to pay for my first semester back out-of-pocket. Knowing that I simply couldn't afford the remainder of community college and would have zero chance at paying for university, I set an appointment up with a financial aid adviser. I did my due diligence in researching all I could find online, and thought I was starting to get a perspective on it. But actually sitting down face to face with a financial aid coordinator made more of a difference than I can express. Not only did I get my financial aid completed in time for the next semester, but I moved through the remainder of my college career with confidence in the process.

3. Make Friends with Career Services.

My initial experience with "career services" amounted to a belief that it was an obligatory department without any real support or direction. It isn't always wise to go with your first impression. One of my work-study jobs was teaching at the writing center. One day I helped a marketing major named Sarah put together her bibliography for a semester-making (or breaking) research paper. During our conference she told me her work-study job was for career services. After expressing my cynicism she invited me to a one-on-one session with her boss. After about an hour my entire perspective changed. Both my senior internship and my (paying) summer internship were settled after that first hour. Having a friend in the department I continued to make frequent stops there, sometimes bringing donuts or just stopping in to chat. Before I graduated, I had a job lined up. Learning how to network and actually creating a network are two important opportunities you have at college. My suggestion is to start that network at the office of career services.

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