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Going back to college after you’ve been out for a while can be a scary experience. You’re not 18 anymore and whether you go back at 25, 30, 50 or even 80, you can feel like a fish out of water. The good news is that there are many ways to prepare yourself for the challenge, especially if you are working or have other responsibilities at home.
Set a Goal
The most important question you can ask yourself is this: what do you hope to accomplish by going back to college? Just going back to finish a degree isn’t always the strongest goal. Have an outcome in mind and understand how going to college will help you achieve that goal. Whether it’s to advance a career, make more money in the future, or change professions, it’s important to set your goal first. Once you decide what you want to do, you can take the steps to get there.
Make a Plan
With your goal in mind, you’ll need to research which schools offer what you need. You’ll need to find out if they offer remote classes or if you need to be there in person. Create a plan that will help you get to the goal. What steps do you need to take? What tests do you need to pass? And what do the schools need for the application process?
Find Your Old Transcripts
It’s important to gather all your important documents if you’re headed back to college. These include any old transcripts from courses you’ve taken or degrees you’ve already received. Your old transcripts will be valuable in determining what classes you need to take for your educational goals. They also help determine your eligibility.
Apply for College
The application process can be a challenge depending on what school you’re applying to. You’ll want to take your time to apply to the program you want and make sure you have everything you need. Many adult education programs accept everyone as long as they have a high school degree or have taken college courses. Some programs may still require standardized tests like the SAT, ACT, or GRE, but there are ways to prepare for those tests to ensure your college application is complete.
Apply for Financial Aid
You may qualify for more money than you realize. The only way to know is to apply for financial aid through the FAFSA application process. There are grants and loans available only to people who apply and qualify based on certain income criteria. Make sure you include all your income and all your dependents to get the most accurate financial aid offers from the schools you want to go to.
Apply for Scholarships
You might think you’re too old for a scholarship, but think again. Some scholarships are awarded to people who go back to college later in life. There are scholarships for people who want to change careers, and even opportunities for moms going back to school after raising a family. Do a thorough search online and ask your college about scholarship opportunities for working students. You might be able to get most of your education paid for without owing a penny.
Create a Schedule
When you take classes, work, and have other things to do at home, you need a schedule. Create a schedule that includes all your classes, your work hours, and even appointments and meetings. Block your time to study for exams, to complete assignments, and to get chores done at home. Keeping yourself on a strict schedule helps you stay on track with your assignments and other responsibilities.
Learn How to Take Notes
Taking notes is one of the most valuable skills you can learn for going back to college. Taking effective notes by using a method like Cornell notes means you will be able to study more efficiently when test time comes. You won’t waste time trying to find all the most important parts of your lectures because you’ll have them in one place. You can spend more time studying and less time figuring out what to study. You can even use apps that allow you to take digital notes instead of lugging paper around.
Discover Ways to Study With Distractions
It’s unlikely that as an adult learner you’ll have quite the same amount of solitude as an 18-year-old in college. You need to be okay with studying with distractions. This may mean purchasing noise cancelling headphones if you can’t go anywhere to be alone or listening to recorded lectures in the car. You’d be amazed at how much you can learn even if you don’t have the peace and quiet you desire.
If you’re working, taking care of a family, and taking college classes, you probably don’t have a lot of time leftover for anything else. One way to alleviate the stress of having so much on your plate is to hire help. Even just hiring someone to come to your house once a week to clean up or hiring someone to help you plan or prepare meals can make a big difference. If hiring help isn’t in the budget, do things to prepare for your family needs each week. Some people like to meal plan, shop, and prepare the weeks’ food in one day to save time later on.
Set Reasonable Expectations
You can succeed in college later in life, but you need to be reasonable with yourself. It might sound like a great idea to take 6 classes per semester, but your bandwidth might only allow for 2 or 3. Be honest about how much you can handle so you can set yourself up for success. Don’t expect it to go perfect or smoothly all the time, but be prepared for the bumps in the road that will come.
Keep a Good Attitude
Going back to school when you’re older means that you have a unique perspective. You’re probably more mature and have more wisdom. But it also means that you’ve had some time to get a little jaded. Keep a good attitude while you’re taking classes. It’ll make your experience more enjoyable and more productive.