Returning to School as An Adult

July 4, 2023

Going to college or entering a job training program is a big decision, especially if you have been out of school for a while. You must be in the right frame of mind to get credentialed, complete an apprenticeship program, or finish your college degree.

There are many reasons adults over age 25 return to school. Some are planning a career change or need new skills or credentials to move up in their current career. Others enroll for personal development or after a change in their life situation. Regardless of the reason, it’s important to consider options and be realistic when taking this big step.

Considerations before returning to school as an adult

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 6.4 million students 25+ enrolled in postsecondary education institutions in 2021. That’s 33% of the student population!

So, know that you are not alone if you are thinking about going back to college, a trade school, or a certificate program. Here are a few of the things to consider as you re-enter the classroom:

  • Know your why you are returning and what you want to accomplish?
  • Be realistic about the time commitment and energy involved in taking classes.
  • Determine how you will pay for tuition, books, and other expenses.
  • Do your homework about programs and schools; consider the pros and cons to find the right fit.
  • Decide whether you want to attend part-time, full-time, in-person or online classes.
  • Explore options to earn college credit from prior learning or by completing exams.
  • Consider whether you want to enter a multi-year program or take an accelerated, shorter program.
  • Seek support from organizations like The Chatfield Edge to help you explore your options. The mission of The Chatfield Edge is to help non-traditional students reach their education and life goals, increasing their employability and deepening their impact on their families and communities.

Preparing to enroll

As an adult learner, you won’t have a high school guidance counselor to walk you through applying for postsecondary learning programs or financial aid.

There are a lot of steps to take before starting classes, and here are a few of the things you will need to do to get started:

  • Schedule a campus visit or attend an admissions event for adult learners.
  • Make an appointment with someone in student services or admissions who supports adult learners. They can help you navigate the admissions process.
  • Order your transcripts from previous colleges you attended or your high school.
  • Check to see if you need a high school diploma or GED to enroll in a school or program.
  • Fill out the admissions application; it can often be done online. Be aware that some admissions requirements may not apply to older students.
  • Complete required admissions tests, placement evaluations, and assessments.
  • Use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for financial aid. There is no age limit for federal or state aid.
  • Make an advising or counseling appointment to help choose your class schedule and develop a graduation plan.
  • Sign up for classes.

If you are returning from the military:

  • Seek out a veteran counselor on campus or contact a veteran-serving organization like the VA or Easterseals. Transitioning to civilian life is challenging and adjusting to school can be difficult. Finding someone who understands your unique situation and questions can be helpful.
  • You will be in a less structured environment; give yourself time to adjust.
  • Start the admissions and military financial aid processes early.
  • Remember that your military experience may be worth college credit.
  • Research financial aid options designed specifically for veterans.

Getting back into the swing of classes

Non-traditional students have delayed enrollment in postsecondary education for various reasons. Many students attend school part-time, work full-time, are financially independent, and often have children or other family members who depend on them. Adult learners face challenges that younger students don’t, plus it’s been a while since they’ve been in a structured school environment. Many returning adults:

  • Worry that they don’t have good study skills.
  • Tried school once and had a bad experience.
  • Think they don’t have time to juggle career, family, and school responsibilities.
  • Have anxiety about affording school because of other financial commitments.
  • May be intimidated by the college environment or worried about feeling isolated.

Easing the transition

  • Take advantage of lower pressure learning opportunities, such as refresher classes, to get reacquainted with the academic environment.
  • Enroll on a part-time basis rather than jumping in full-time.
  • Be a positive role model, respect diversity, and be assertive in the classroom. You will be interacting with younger students. Remember that you may have a different lifestyle, attitude, and way of learning than the traditional, fresh-out-of-high-school students in your classes.
  • Be prepared for homework. Have a private, quiet place at home to study. Start early and allow extra time to complete assignments. Get help from a tutor or study group if you need it.
  • Be realistic about what the college environment will be like.
  • Talk with your family about how going back to school will affect home life and the changes that will occur. Ask for their support.
  • Expect to feel some stress. Students of all ages do.

How The Chatfield Edge can help

By combining student support services, scholarships, and mentoring, The Chatfield Edge empowers individuals to achieve their postsecondary educational dreams – be it college, trade school, or a certificate training program.

We built The Chatfield Edge’s model on four pillars of student support:

  • Educational Support – Walking alongside students to help them choose a field of study, identify a school or program, one-on-one personal assistance in completing the application process, and securing financial aid.
  • Scholarships – Helping students find the financial resources needed to make going to school possible, assisting with tuition costs, and providing close-the-gap monies for expenses financial aid might not cover, like transportation, childcare, incidental fees, or living expenses.
  • Mentoring – Providing mentors who meet with students regularly to reinforce that they are loved, respected, and belong. In addition, mentors help students see solutions to life’s challenges and help their mentees stay focused on their goals and priorities.
  • Faith – Facilitating opportunities for students to reach outside themselves and serve others with a focus on community service, spirituality, and social justice through retreats and volunteer options.

The services of The Chatfield Edge are open to those residing in the southwest Ohio counties of Adams, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton, Highland, and Warren.

If you are an adult who wants to return to school but is unsure how to get started, we are here to help. Contact us today to get started.

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