Tips for Adult Learners Returning to College After a Break

These days, a college degree is more important than ever when it comes to career advancement. Recent studies indicate that about 75% of new jobs require a degree but only about 40% of potential applicants have one.

Of course, getting through college is no walk in the park. It’s even more challenging if you’re an adult returning to college and have been out of school for some time. If you’re looking for the best advice for adults going back to college, you’ve come to the right place.

Going Back to School as an Adult

Many inherent challenges come with returning to school as an adult. Whether you’ve been away from academia for a few years or a few decades, you’re going to need to make some adjustments. You might have to get used to new technologies or methods of teaching, which can be challenging. You may also have to juggle other important obligations, such as working a full-time job and taking care of your family.

Tips for Adults Going Back to College

Not sure how to go to college as an adult student? Here are some practical tips worth keeping in mind.

Know Your Reasons for Returning to School

Begin by considering your reason for returning to school. Are you trying to start or finish a degree? Are you trying to qualify for a promotion at work? Maybe you’re ready to make a complete career change. Regardless, take some time to consider why going back to college is so important to you and who you’re doing it for. Write these reasons down so you can refer to them later if you need extra motivation or encouragement.

Choose the Right Program

Not all schools or degree programs are created equal, so take time to explore your options and choose one that is committed to helping you succeed. Ideally, the school and program you select will offer options to make your life easier as a busy adult learner, such as online courses and a career services center to prepare you for success in your field.

Meet with an Admissions Advisor

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with an admissions advisor. They can help you get a grasp of what you need to submit with your application and whether the program is a good fit for you. An admissions advisor will also be able to answer any questions you have about transfer credits, the program curriculum, and the school itself.

Explore Financial Aid Options

Paying for school can be challenging, especially when you consider that the average cost of a bachelor’s degree program now exceeds $36,000 per student, per year, in the United States.

If you’re worried about being able to pay for school, explore your financial aid options. You may qualify for scholarships, grants, or even subsidized loans that can help you cut down on interest accrued while you’re in school. Some schools also offer zero-interest payment plans to help you break your semester tuition costs into smaller, more manageable installments.

Be Aware of Deadlines

While some schools may offer rolling admission throughout the year, some have strict deadlines and cutoffs for applications. Make sure you understand the application and admission requirements (including cutoffs for enrollment) so you can plan accordingly. Missing an application deadline might mean having to wait until the following semester to apply and enroll, which can set you back months on your journey.

In addition, make note of important class deadlines when you start school. Write due dates for major projects, research papers, and other large assignments on your calendar as soon as you receive your syllabus.

Refine Your Study Skills

Now is also a good time to focus on sharpening your study skills, especially if it’s been a few years since you’ve attended school. One of the most important things you can do is to set time aside to study for each of your classes throughout each week. Many adult learners find it helpful to block study time into their weekly schedules. Even if it’s just 15–20 minutes per night, a little bit of dedicated study time can go a long way.

Recognize Anxiety

Unfortunately, anxiety is a very real and common problem among today’s college students. Adult learners are no exception. Attending college is a very demanding and stressful experience that includes juggling projects, assignments, and due dates.

Before you resume your academic journey then, it’s important to recognize the signs of anxiety and have a plan in place for addressing it in your own life. Some symptoms to watch out for include feelings of restlessness or irritability, recurring headaches, and a persistent sense of panic or stress. Anxiety disorders are treatable but require specialized care to address, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor if you experience symptoms.

Network with Fellow Students

Having a strong support system in place can make all the difference when returning to school. This support system includes not just your current family and friends but the people you’ll meet and connect with in your degree program.

Forming friendships with fellow students is a great way to network and make your college experience more enjoyable. You can form study groups, within which you can keep each other accountable and find a sense of companionship as you navigate this new chapter in your life. There’s a good chance you’ll even be able to connect with some other adult learners returning to school and experiencing similar challenges as you.

Prioritize Mental and Physical Health

Above all else, be sure to make your mental and physical well-being a priority. You can’t expect to function or perform well in school if you’re not taking care of yourself, so make time for self-care and things that will nourish your body and mind.

Strive to maintain a healthy diet, even on busy days when the temptation to indulge in junk food may be strong. Likewise, aim to get in some physical activity a few days per week. This could be anything from some light yoga to a full-body workout at the gym.

When you take care of your body and mind, you’ll be better equipped to handle the rigors of your degree program.

Is Going Back to College Worth It?

Pursuing a college degree as an adult student who has been out of school for a while can be stressful, but the effort can pay off many times over by opening new doors for career advancement and other opportunities. The key is to find a college committed to providing support services and resources to its adult learners so they have the best chances for success.

At Excelsior University, we strive to offer flexible online degree programs that allow you to pursue your higher education without putting the rest of your life on hold. Explore our undergraduate and graduate degree programs to learn more or start your online application today!