How to Go Back to College as an Adult


Just because you didn’t get to finish your college education at the traditional time in your life doesn’t mean you can’t still get an education. Going back to school as an adult is not only possible, it’s easier than ever now that you can earn many degrees online. Here’s what you need to do.

Figure Out What You Want Out of College

Before you start looking at specific degree programs, you need to get clear on what you hope to get out of college. People have all kinds of reasons for going back to school. Maybe you started a degree but didn’t finish and now you’re ready to get back at it. Maybe you need an additional credential to advance in your field. Maybe you want more financial security, or maybe what you really want is a career you’re passionate about. You might even already have a degree, but want to retrain so you can embark on a totally new career. Keeping your goal in mind will help keep you motivated when school gets difficult.

You also need to consider what you need or want out of a degree program in terms of your lifestyle. You might not be in a place anymore where you can quit working for years, take out a bunch of loans, and move to a new town to be close to your university campus. You might need more flexibility to take classes as your schedule allows, on your time and in your location. Online degree programs, like the child development degree from the University of Arizona, are designed to cater to the needs of busy, working adults.

Research Majors and Programs

Once you have your sites fixed on a goal for your education, you can start researching majors and programs. You can use resources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook to find information about what career fields are experiencing the fastest growth and what credentials you need to work in those fields. Look for programs led by professors you admire at schools that have accreditation.

Take Placement Tests

If you already have some college credits, you can apply as a transfer student and perhaps be admitted as a sophomore, junior or senior. If you haven’t attended college before, you’ll probably have to take some placement tests like the ACT or the SAT. If you’re going for graduate or professional school, it’s probably going to be the GRE, MCAT, or LSAT. Make sure you leave yourself ample time to prepare for and take your placement tests. You may want to have the option to retake a test if you don’t do well on it the first time.

Get Your Applications in Order

You’re going to want to apply to more than one college, because you might not get accepted at all of them. Apply to several schools that offer the degree program you want. Get recommendation letters from high school teachers, current and former work managers, colleagues, or former professors. Write your application essays. Make sure you get everything submitted on time so you can be considered for admission for your desired first term.

File the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will help your school’s financial aid office determine what loans, grants, and scholarships you’re eligible for based on your financial status. At most schools, you will need to file the FAFSA if you want any financial aid, regardless of your financial status. You may still qualify for scholarships and grants even if you don’t qualify for need-based financial aid, so it’s worth doing the paperwork.

Choose Your School and Major

Once you have all your applications in and you have filed your FAFSA, you can wait for acceptances. A college acceptance letter will typically come with a financial aid offer, so you can compare schools based on how much aid they’re offering you as well as other factors that might be important to you, like proximity to your house or the reputation of the professors in the program. Only you can choose the best school for you, but if it doesn’t work out, you can still probably transfer.

Going back to college as an adult can be intimidating, but it’s worth it to reach your financial and professional goals. Isn’t it time you put yourself first and finished your education? The sooner you start thinking seriously about going back to school, the sooner you’ll reach graduation day.


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