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Going Back to College: Getting Started
(Continued from 3)

Make an Academic Plan.
Once you determine your educational goals and the school you wish to attend, your next step is to make an academic plan. Your advisor can help you decide which courses to take, and whether you should take course prerequisites or any refresher courses (for example, in English or Math). This plan will serve as your academic guide and timetable to keep you on course. You can review this plan periodically to determine how it fits your lifestyle: if it gives you enough time for work, family, and other activities. To get maximum benefit from your degree, plan your career beforehand, not when you finish the program. Be sure your academic plan has a determined end date.

When you are ready to select classes for your first semester, choose subjects in which you are already interested and do well in. This will help ease your transition and establish a study schedule. As you increase in confidence and are more acclimated to college life, try the more difficult or unfamiliar subjects. Many colleges offer tutoring, so be sure to take advantage of these services if you need them. Additional study resources can be found in the Academics section of this Web site.

Attend a Campus Orientation.
Many colleges offer student orientations or campus tour before the start of the semester, and sometimes there is an orientation especially for non-traditional students. These orientations often include information about campus resources, re-entry services, study skills, and stress management tips. They also help familiarize you with the campus and provide help with other important issues you may need to address while continuing your education.

If you can't take a tour, try to familiarize yourself with the many resources the college provides on campus, such as the career center, a math lab or writing center, and any free tutorial assistance.

Build a Strong Support System.
A major reason for not completing their degree for returning adults is not having a strong support system. Transitioning from workplace to student can be difficult and present obstacles, especially if you lack support from employer, family, or friends. These may include difficulty in understanding and getting financial aid, receiving counseling or career direction, the complexity of re-enrollment and transfer/credit issues, inflexible class scheduling, persistence, and poor study skills.

Persistence is one of the most common hurdles facing adults who return to school. Adult students generally commute, may be married, work full or part-time, and have children. Handling an academic workload while dealing with these realities can cause some to drop out. Others might begin a program of study, to find they have to put it on hold due to life events (i.e., health or other issues).

Having a strong support system can help adults facing these challenges. While ultimate responsibility rests with you, it's also up to you to reach out if needed. Involve family and friends in the excitement and importance of learning. Demonstrate to your employer how your goals will benefit the company as well as yourself. The more involved others are in your success, the more they will be on your team if you need them.

Reach out to those on campus as well. Ask your college or university if they have any resources for older students. Seek out social networks or groups, academic or professional, to share concerns. Get to know your professors or instructors and take advantage of office hours to answer any questions or seek help if struggling with a subject.

Consider Combining Class Work with Part-Time Employment.
Combining classes with part-time employment can be a challenge, but employers often provide assistance to help you toward educational goals. Many offer cooperative education programs*, tuition reimbursement, or paying assistantships or internships. As well as helping you with your tuition, these programs can provide valuable work experience and references.

Another option is federal or state work study (which can be included in your financial aid award.) If you choose to participate, you will need to find a position in your major with a qualified employer. Your employer will then be reimbursed and the income you earn will not be counted in determining the next year's financial aid, a significant benefit.

Remember, you are going back to college because you (like many other adult students) want to be there. Relax, and enjoy your journey!

Still have questions? Please read the FAQ (Going Back to College: Frequently Asked Questions).

*Cooperative education programs are work opportunities offered through schools to enable students to apply classroom knowledge to the workplace. Like internshipsthese programs provide many benefits, among them:

  • Gain career related job experience
  • Receive compensation
  • Make valuable contacts in the profession
  • Receive offers for future, permanent positions
  • Earn college credit toward a degree

Find ProgramsFind colleges and universities that offer cooperative education.

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