How to Prepare for College

How to Prepare for College

Fall is an exciting back-to-school season of new beginnings. As youngsters head off to their first day of school toting a new backpack with a fresh box of crayons, wistful adults may long for an educational fresh start for themselves. It’s not too late. Follow this step-by-step guide on how to prepare for college and discover for yourself that adult college students are the new normal.

Step 1: Decide on Your Education and Career Goals

Your first step is to decide on your education and career goals, your roadmap to success.

Your academic goals — whether it’s pursuing new credentials, professional development, or earning a college degree — can help you build a strong resume. Attaining these goals also prepare you with the skills and credentials you need to achieve your career aspirations — whether it’s landing a big promotion, getting a raise, or creating an exciting fresh start in a brand-new field.

Step 2: Choose a Career Path and Degree Program

As you choose a career path, reflect on your passions — what inspires or drives you? Then take a moment to jot down your top skills, such as writing, mathematics, computer coding, or project planning. If you see connections between the two lists, it’s a big clue that you may have discovered your career path.

Next, define what you want most out of your career — from a six-figure salary to a solid work-life balance. Once you find a career that’s a great match for your personality and values, check out your future job prospects in resources such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Once you’ve chosen the right career path for you, it’s time to find a degree program that can open the door to a job interview. For help and advice, visit student services at NU.

Step 3: Complete the FAFSA

If you want to be among the more than 13 million students who receive more than $120 billion in financial aid to pay for college or educational programs each year, your first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s like a gateway to federal grants, loans, and work study funds that can make your college education more affordable.  Learn more about financial aid at National University.

Step 4: Visit and Apply to Colleges

To choose a college that’s right for you, watch videos, read brochures, speak to an admissions representative, and visit the school (if possible) to get a feel for a campus and faculty before applying. If you’ll be juggling education with your work and family responsibilities, consider an online program that can deliver a quality education in a flexible format at National University. Be sure to check the institution’s accreditation, graduation rates, and job placements of recent graduates.

Step 5: Make a Budget for College and Expenses

Preparing for college also involves number crunching as you create a budget for your education and other expenses.

It’s simpler than you might think by using online calculators on Its student budget calculator tallies your annual income and expenses to flag when you’re spending beyond your means.  If scholarships, grants, and savings won’t cover the full cost of your college expenses, its loan calculator will help you decide how much you’ll need to borrow. To get a full snapshot of your college education’s price tag, its cost projector calculator is simple to use, requiring you to enter the annual college cost, expected years of attendance, percentage of costs from savings, and years until enrollment. 

Step 6: Apply for Scholarships and Grants

At first glance, the price tag for a college education may seem daunting, but keep in mind a wide range of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid can make attending college affordable. More than 1.7 million fellowships and scholarships are awarded each year in the United States from schools, the federal government, local districts, and third-party providers.

It can be tricky to research all the financial aid opportunities available to you on your own — one study reveals 42% of scholarships cannot be found through a simple Google search.

For one-on-one guidance, National University’s financial aid advisors are here to help you find resources to pay for school. Visit to learn more about financial aid available at NU, which awards millions of dollars in scholarships, including the Opportunity Scholarship, a need- and program-based award to help reduce the cost of undergraduate tuition.

Step 7: Attend School!

Chances are, you may feel apprehensive about going back to school — especially if you haven’t cracked a textbook in years. It’s reassuring to know the so-called traditional student (one who attends college straight out of high school) is now more the exception than the rule. In fact, there are about 6.6 million adult learners in college today, according to one estimate. There have never been so many flexible and affordable college options for adult learners like you.

two people look at a planning board together

Tips for Back to School

Regardless of whether months, years, or even decades have passed since you’ve been a student, National University’s team of education and industry experts at Workforce Education Solutions offer their top seven tips for back to school.

Get Organized

Come up with a system to get organized, and stick to it! Whether you choose one big ring binder with color-coded tabs for each class or separate notebooks with a folder with handouts, we suggest keeping your system simple so you can easily follow it every day.

Start a Routine

Purchase a paper or electronic calendar and block out everything set in stone, from work hours and class time to family and social obligations. Decide how many hours a week you’ll need to study and schedule that study time in your calendar — and stay on track.

Make friends

Don’t go it alone. By making friends in each class, you’ll find study partners you can turn to for homework questions or to prepare for exams. Once you graduate, these friendships will also give you a leg up on professional networking.

Connect with your teachers

Students who connect with their teachers are more likely to perform well in school because it’s less intimidating to schedule one-on-one meetings, and it’s easier to ask for individual instruction. It’s also easier for teachers to provide helpful feedback once they get to know your strengths and weaknesses.  

Find a Good Study Space

According to The Princeton Review, it’s key to have a well-stocked desk in a quiet place at home, but sometimes a change of scenery — whether a coffee shop, library, park, or simply moving to the kitchen table — can prompt your brain to retain information better.

Use Apps to Boost Productivity

If you want to get more done in less time, there are a variety of apps to boost your productivity. Here are three to consider:

  1. Google Calendar. You can organize all your classes, events, extracurriculars, and assignment deadlines across your phone and computer using this app, as well as set up reminders before events or for to-dos so you’ll never forget anything. This web application is available on iOS and Android.
  2. iStudiezPro. You can track your schedule, homework deadlines, and grades, along with sharing your schedule with family members using this app, which is available on iOS, MacOS, Windows, and Android.
  3. Todoist. As you juggle multiple tasks and priorities, this app allows you to set up different to-do lists under different projects, prioritize them, and create reminders. It’s available on iOS, MacOS, Windows, and Android.

Stay focused and motivated

Student life is full of distractions and stressors, but here are a few ways to stay focused and motivated:

  • Give yourself little rewards for completing your goals.
  • Set your electronics to “do not disturb” to remove distracting notifications.
  • Take breaks such as taking your dog for a walk, gardening, listening to motivational music, or anything else to recharge before you jump into your next academic task.
woman sitting in office in front of window with notepad and pen


If you’re ready to celebrate fall by heading back to school, National University is here to help you turn your academic dreams into reality. National University is the one online university that considers the whole human — taking a holistic approach to student well-being through a supportive ecosystem that measures success financially, socially, and emotionally, as well as family life and career. NU works side-by-side with learners to break the individual barriers they face as they strive toward a higher education.

For adult learners starting or returning to higher education, they’re not just a student, they’re likely a parent, employee, and caregiver. At National University, we support and recognize the multiple roles adult learners juggle and offer them the confidence that while higher education is hard, it’s totally possible, and we’re here to help make it so.

Connect with a Workforce Education Solutions enrollment advisor today at [email protected] or 855.773.9444 to learn more about career-relevant programs and scholarships at National University.

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