Earning a degree is no doubt different for adult learners than for those fresh out of high school, but being an adult learner has it positives. At a younger age, maybe you were less confident about what you wanted or had to delay degree completion for personal reasons. Now, you’re at a different time in your life with more defined career goals, life skills and experience—all things that will come in handy in as you pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree.
If you are looking start or finish your degree but have fears about going back to school, know that it is possible to achieve your academic goals. Below, we compare four common concerns of potential students to the realities of going back to school as an adult learner.
Myth #1: You Don’t Have Room in Your Schedule
Balancing a job, family, friends, and school won't be easy, but many before you have a found a way. With the right amount of planning, you can too. When talking with school representatives, ask how many hours you can expect to spend in class and doing class work. Then, create a plan for how to divide your time each day. Simply knowing you have a plan can go a long way.
Beyond this plan, you'll need support from those around you. Before you start classes, let your family know that they'll have to pitch in a little more while you’re in school. Then, talk with your friends about why you’re continuing your education and how much this means to you, so that they can offer emotional support and will understand if you miss the occasional get-together.
If earning your undergraduate or graduate degree could enhance your current career, share your plans with your boss. Hopefully, they’ll offer encouragement and maybe flexibility in your work schedule. (Plus, there's always the possibility of tuition assistance.) During classes, one way to save time is by relating your schoolwork to your job where possible. For example, for a class assignment, you might choose to create a business proposal that could be reused for your job.
Myth #2: You've Been Out of School Too Long
In reality, your life and work experience will likely benefit you as a student. Instructors appreciate adult learners who ask informed questions and bring real-world examples to class discussions. Besides that, if you've participated in continuing education courses, learned new software, or had to prepare for presentations at work, then you’ve already been using many of the same skills you’ll need in school.
Today, nontraditional students are becoming the norm and schools often design undergraduate and graduate degree programs with adult learners in mind. As you research schools, ask how many adult learners are currently enrolled. See if they offer an orientation class to ease you into the swing of things or provide support staff who will be readily available to answer your questions. Once you’re in school, get to know other adult learners; you can swap study and scheduling tips, and make valuable contacts for after you graduate.
Myth #3: You’re Not Skilled Enough with Computers or New Technology
Orientation classes can help you get up to speed on the software you’ll need, and schools commonly offer software tutorials, tutoring, and webinars for those who want extra training. Even in online programs, these days, online classrooms are designed with ease of use as a key goal for everyone, regardless of technological expertise. So many careers require computer skills today anyway, so, while it might sound stressful, brushing up on your tech knowledge will be good for you.
Myth #4: You Won’t be Able to Manage the Cost of Your Education
An important aspect of returning to school is knowing what return on investment to expect from your program. Tools like the government’s Occupational Outlook Handbook can offer helpful details about the value of education in specific fields. Beyond this, try finding programmatic alumni stories and talking to your manager and others in the field to understand how a degree might help you.
If you’re worried about the cost of degree completion, make sure you explore all options—including federal financial aid, employer tuition assistance, military benefits, and scholarships from private and public organizations. By transferring credit from past college experience, you may be able to save time and money. As you narrow in on your top schools, take the time to talk to their finance counselors about transferring credit and other options for making a degree program more affordable.
Moving Forward with Confidence
Remember, age can play in your favor when going back to school. Life and work experience often teach lessons and skills that young students rarely possess, things like time management and not being afraid to seek help when it’s needed. As an adult, you’re likely more organized, responsible, and motivated to get your degree.
Along with offering a full array of academic resources and dedicated support staff for every student, South University's campus and online programs are designed to accommodate the schedules of busy, working adults. To learn more about how we support adult learners across all undergraduate and graduate degree programs, contact us today.
Note: This blog was originally published October 6, 2016 and updated April 9, 2018.