Learned: Seven Tips for Returning to College
by Suzanne T. Jackson
Boy, I had no idea what I was getting in to when I
decided to go back to school. With high school really
only a mere four years behind me, I wasn't totally out
of my league yet. New aspirations of becoming a nursing
student filled my head with images of white uniforms,
clipboards, and lasting friendships
with people with M.D. after their names. Was I that
blind, or was I just that naive?
My application to the local private college went without
a hitch. Just about anyone could have downloaded an
application from the school's website, or even more
conveniently, could have driven to campus and picked
up one. Most all colleges and universities have simple
application procedures offered to just about anyone
who has a pen, the ability to write, and a $25 application
fee. Luckily, these were all qualities I possessed.
I was already acting like a college student. I was accepted
within months and there began my journey through registration.
The one major thing I can't stress enough to new college
students is: Get yourself an advisor. Do not,
I repeat, do not try to figure out a 210-page handbook
on your own. I guarantee your brain with be sizzling
within minutes. My advisor was helpful, knowledgeable,
and gave great advice. She knew that I worked full-time
during the day, and didn't have a lot of time to think
about what classes I would need to successfully graduate
with my major. I was directed on how to obtain financial
aid, where to take my class registration papers, and
even where to park on campus to avoid useless charges!
Now, I can't speak for all colleges and universities,
but night classes are very "older student friendly".
More than half of the students are over the age of 30
and work a full-time job. I was totally in my element
there. Only a handful of traditional students were in
my classes, and their looks of horror always spoke
volumes of their minority.
After a year, I changed to daytime classes with a
full-time schedule. This was a completely different
world. The lines for registration were longer with traditional
generation x-ers that could smell an older student a
mile away. When I left the safe haven of my night-time
advisor, I also found that the daytime advisors were
scarred by the countless years of attitude, whinyness,
and blank stares. With the day classes also came twice
as many classmates. I found myself always being the
oldest, and the one closest to my professors age.
This time in college brought some important lessons.
After six years (including undergoing a major change
from nursing to communications), I graduated with a
B.A. in Communication. To help other returning students
save time and avoid common pitfalls, I've outlined seven
- Always get a student handbook and read it BEFORE
to a college. The college student 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 college Web site.
- Get to know the environment you are going to be
a part of before you sign the financial
aid application dotted line. Spend time exploring
the campus, attend a campus orientation, or view virtual
- Understand the withdrawal rules and regulations
before registering for classes, have an idea of campus
study and/or tutoring resources, and use them!
- Professors, faculty and staff members will be more
than happy to help you if you sincerely express a
need for their assistance and advice. These are people
who have been with the institution for some time and
understand the rules and regulations.
- Make sure you completely understand your financial
aid award, and any student loan percentage rates
and payback requirements. All questions can be easily
answered through the financial aid office on campus.
If you learn that you will only receive partial aid
when you assumed you would receive full aid, you may
find, weeks into a course, that you can't afford to
pay to continue your studies.
- Always have one advisor that you trust, and meet
with them at least once a month per semester. Make
sure they are aware of your goals and discuss all
- The absolute golden rule of going back to school:
Enjoy your experience! You came back because you wanted
to be more important in the workforce, have more knowledge
to advance in your field, or because it was something
you always dreamed of achieving for personal satisfaction.
The latter was my driving force, and after six
years and two majors, I am proud of my achievements,
and so is my family. Instead of working a job that
I hate, I'm now doing what I enjoy!
Be informed, be aware, and make the most of your
Suzanne attained her B.A. in December and is a
stay-at-home mother and a freelance writer. Writing
has been a passion of hers since she was fourteen.