It’s a decision that a lot of adults wrestle with every day: Should I go back to school? If your answer is, “Yes!” here are five steps you can take to make your return to college as seamless and painless as possible.
Step 1: Find Your Focus
This first step might be the hardest. Once you’ve decided that you want or need more education as an adult, college can offer a myriad of possibilities — and that in itself is a challenge: You have to determine what to study.
Samantha Beltran, an admissions advisor at National University, says this is the time to weigh all your options. She estimates that three of every four adult students who go back to school have taken at least some college classes. Many decide that what they originally studied is no longer relevant for them.
“Most of the adult college students we talk to, and I talk to a great number of them, want to try something new,” she says.
While going back to college as an adult does present challenges, Beltran says one advantage adult students have is that they already know their interests, their skills, and what sort of career they’d like to pursue.
“A lot of 19-year-olds right out of high school,” she says, “are taking general education classes to figure that out.”
Step 2: Online or On Campus?
Most adult learners are juggling a job, some are caring for a family, and others have just left the service and are getting re-acclimated to civilian life. For these adult students, flexibility is everything. So more of them, according to Beltran, are choosing online colleges and earning an online degree.
“Flexibility is one of the benefits of doing online classes versus attending brick-and-mortar classes,” she says. “A lot of adults don’t have the time to spend a full day at a physical campus going from class to class.”
That doesn’t mean that all online colleges are created equal.
“I always tell students to make sure it’s a regionally accredited university,” says Beltran.
Fortunately, there are online resources like the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website that can show you which schools have been regionally accredited and which ones you’ll probably want to avoid.
Step 3: Looking Back to Look Forward
Once you’ve decided on a college or university, the next step is to document where you’ve been and what you’ve already accomplished — it’s time to get your transcripts together. While that sounds simple, it often isn’t.
“Sometimes that process takes a while,” Beltran says. “That includes high-school transcripts and any college courses or transcripts.”
Admissions advisors like Beltran can often find hidden gems in a transcript that can provide a head start toward finishing a degree. Things like AP classes and success on the CLEP test can give you college credit for what you’ve already accomplished.
“We don’t want you to lose out on what you’re entitled to,” she says.
Step 4: Not Letting Life Get in the Way
Now, it’s time to apply. One added benefit of applying to National is that your application will stay on file for a year.
“So you have that whole year to really focus on everything else,” Beltran says. “Then you can schedule your classes and you’ll be off to a great start.”
Whether you boot up your laptop or drive to campus, once you start classes, your new life as a student begins. But that doesn’t mean your old life ends. Now the challenge becomes finding enough hours in the day to accomplish all you need to do. Beltran admits that’s never easy, but says the key is to stay focused on your long-term goals.
“Life is always going to get in the way, but you have to make time for school,” she says.
“One of the things I always talk to students about is motivation. For some, their motivation is to be an example for their kids. If you’re doing it for your kids, it has to be a priority.”
That motivation may be especially important for adults focused on earning a graduate degree. But at least, they usually aren’t surprised by the workload.
“A lot of the grad students know what they’re getting into,” Beltran says. “They know it will be a little bit harder, there might be more writing, but they’re used to that and they’re willing to put that work in.”
Step 5: Connect for Success
No matter which college you choose, whether it’s an accredited online college or a traditional campus, it’s important that adult students feel connected to it. That’s one of the most important things in determining your success.
“You’ll see in a lot of physical universities where that connection is kind of, well, sparse,” Beltran says. “But National developed that online format, so we work very hard to be responsive to make it as easy as possible.”
Like just about everyone at National University, Samantha Beltran knows what she’s talking about first-hand. She went to college right out of high school and began pursuing a degree in nursing. But after two years, she switched her major to literature. She admits it was a pretty drastic change.
Then, after years in the workplace, she followed these five steps and went back to earn a master’s degree in educational administration.
“The reason I did it was because I found that I really liked working with students,” she says. “I like learning about their motivation.”
If you’re motivated to go to college as an adult and want to start your college prep journey, begin by finding out more about the many online and on-campus programs offered at National University. We invite you to speak with one of our advisors and explore your options. You’re ready — good luck!