Back to school: tips for returning to college after years away

Posted on 12 August 2020
By Carlton Whitfield
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Few things can be as daunting, as challenging and as life-changing as returning to college as an adult. While this is a rite of passage for many 18-to-21-year-olds, going back to school in your late twenties, thirties and even beyond can be both exhilarating and stressful. However, there are steps you can take to ensure that your pursuit of education is a success.

Get Buy-In from Your Loved Ones

If you have family you live with, you’ll need their support to succeed. For instance, if you’re pursuing online lessons from — which allows you to find courses and tutors near you — the support of your loved ones is critical to balancing your work and school activities. If you’re married or live with your partner, you should talk about how your finances and free time will be affected. If you have older children, you should talk to them about your new commitments. If your children are very young, you’ll need to ensure that you have adequate child care and other support. Even if you live alone, the other people in your life should be prepared for the changes that are ahead.

Line Up Your Financing

One of the main reasons to go back to school is for improved career prospects, but first, you’ll need to spend some money. Don’t let the cost of tuition make you put your education plans on hold again.

Even if you don’t qualify for much in federal aid or what you get isn’t enough to cover your costs, private student loans are an option. In the past decade, online lenders have worked hard to streamline their application process, and with lower overhead, they might be able to offer you better interest rates than traditional brick-and-mortar lenders. However, your local bank or credit union can also be a source for loans.

Shore Up Your Weaknesses

If you went to school and dropped out, you might be especially concerned about whatever made you leave the first time, whether it was struggling with a particular subject, poor study habits or something else. Keep in mind that this was in the past, and you have different motivations now and more experience under your belt.

It’s not unusual for young people to struggle on a first attempt at going to college. On the other hand, if you never went to college at all or are returning for graduate school after years away, you might feel out of touch and worried that you can’t keep up.

This is a common worry, but most likely, you will quickly get up to speed. Some colleges will let you take a class without being formally admitted to a degree program, and this can be a way to ease in. Above all, you should anticipate your weak areas and think about strategies to address them.

Review Your Strengths

You also need to remind yourself of your strengths. The fact that you’re taking steps to improve your life is a testament to your determination, which will serve you well in college.

This also means that you are goal-oriented. If you’re struggling to identify other strengths, sit down with a sympathetic friend or family member and ask them. Reminding yourself or being reminded by someone else that you are persistent and hardworking or that you have great critical thinking skills can give you some of the confidence you need as you start your first classes.