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4 Secrets to Success for Adults Going Back to College

If you’re returning to school after years away, follow these tips to maximize your chances of success



By Greg Scott Neuman
Posted 2011

Back to School Tips for Adult Learners
Back to School Tips for Adult Learners

Adults returning to school – many of whom have spent years working at a job or raising a family – often face some unique challenges. Funding can be scarce, study habits have atrophied and other responsibilities demand attention. If you’re one of these students, how can you increase your chances of successfully completing your degree?

1. Use financial aid resources. First things first – fill out and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It is included in U.S. News University Directory’s financial aid guide, which you can download for free right now. The Department of Education will use your FAFSA to determine how much aid – including grants and subsidized student loans – you qualify for.

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Scholarships are a different story; if you’ve been out of school for awhile you’re probably not going to qualify for traditional scholarships right away. However, if you are among those adults going back to college who earned top grades during your freshman and sophomore years, you could find yourself in serious contention for merit-based awards as a junior or senior. Scholarship options are available specifically for adults going back to college, but you will need to do some research to find them. Consider visiting sites such as FinAid.org and GoingBacktoSchoolGuide.com to start. Given that financing is often the top concern for adult students, anything that gets you free financial aid is worth pursuing.

2. Carefully plan your study time. For students with families, this could mean that you study after the kids have gone to bed – perhaps 9 pm to 11 pm every week night. If you are a working student, you may want to hit the books in the after-dinner hours, or perhaps on Saturday afternoons. The goal is to create a schedule that consistently helps you meet all of your commitments – school, work, family and everything else.

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One other thing: Make sure the people in your life understand the importance of the time you set aside for coursework. Spouses, children, roommates and others should know when your study time is and that they are not to disturb you during it unless there is an emergency.

3. Interact with other adult students. You are not the only person who’s back in school after some time away; the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that the number of students age 25 and older increased by 43% between 2000 and 2009. Chances are there will be some – perhaps many – other adult students in your classes.

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Check with your school’s student services to see if there are any adult student or non-traditional student organizations. If there are, consider joining them – it can be a great opportunity to network with people who understand the challenges you’re facing. And if there are any adult students in your classes, make it point to get to know them as well.

4. Set some time aside for yourself. Working all day, every day for months on end can lead to exhaustion and burn out, which will not help you be successful in school, work or anywhere else. Getting run down to the point that you can’t function is a recipe for failure.

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Make sure you get an adequate amount of sleep every night. And schedule some time off at least once a week; go have dinner with friends, catch up on your favorite TV show or do something else you find relaxing. A break from the books and your other responsibilities, even if it’s just for a few hours, can leave you refreshed and ready to get back to work!

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