6 tips for adults going back to school

6 Tips for Adults Going Back to College

For whatever reason, whether it’s personal or financial, not everyone finishes school. Some people don’t even start school right after college when it is traditionally expected. Those students, who choose to go back to college at some point in their lives are nontraditional students. Nearly 40% of college students are nontraditional. 

Why an adult chooses to go back to school is unique to each individual, but some of the common motivating factors are: 

  • Career change.
  • Prepares you for specialization.
  • Higher salaries.
  • New job opportunities.

If you’re considering going to college as a nontraditional student, here are a few tips that may help you succeed:

Know Your Motivations

Understanding your motivation will help you to determine why you’re going back to school. Is it an intrinsic motivation? Meaning, does it come from somewhere internally? Do you want to go back to school purely for the love of learning? Or is it extrinsic motivation? This means you’re going back to school not just because you love learning. For example, you’re returning to school to earn your MS in Financial Analysis because you want to change your career and become a certified public accountant. That is extrinsic motivation. 

Knowing your motivation helps you to build momentum to completing your goal. While motivation is the reason you start something, it doesn’t always remain. Having the momentum to complete your goal is the key to success. 

Draw on Your Life Experience

Your life experience has prepared you for this. You know how expensive the world is and, comparatively to a student fresh out of high school, you know how it works. Having your experience in either the workforce, military, or whatever else you have done, means that you understand how important this opportunity is. You’ll be able to avoid pitfalls such as not taking school seriously enough. 

Understand Your Financial Situation

Nontraditional students have already entered the workforce. Sometimes, this means that they have funds saved up in order to help afford college. This is not always true, and it is extremely important to understand your financial situation. Will you have to take out loans in order to afford college? Fill out the FAFSA and see how much financial aid you are able to receive.

Scholarships for Nontraditional Students

Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund 

American Legion Auxiliary Non-traditional Student Scholarship

Mary Lou Manzie Memorial Scholarship

Set Realistic Expectations

Know your limits. Life for nontraditional students is completely different for traditional students. Many nontraditional students continue to work either full-time or part-time while completing their degrees. Some students choose to enroll part-time or full-time online. Understanding what your schedule will be like and forgiving yourself when things pop up is key to your success. 

Refresh Your School Skills

For some nontraditional students, it’s been a while since they’ve been in the classroom. Refreshing your study skills online, reviewing how to take notes, and looking up test-taking tips may be helpful. 

Once enrolled, be sure to take advantage of the programs the school has on-campus or online. Schools have student success coaches, advisors, writing centers, and tutoring groups that can help to make sure your skills are up to par. 

General school skills to keep in mind:

  • Don’t cram.
  • Don’t put off homework until the last minute. 
  • Have a specific spot for studying/school work.
  • Don’t study for long periods without taking a break.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Social

Many nontraditional students feel as though their age holds them back from interacting with their classmates, but that shouldn’t be the case. Conversation is a natural part of the classroom. Ask questions, make friends, and be social. Even if you’re online, potentially reach out to your cohort on a message board, schedule a zoom study session, and work together to succeed. 

Being social within your degree program also opens the door to networking opportunities. 

Going back to school as an adult may seem difficult, even out of reach, but it isn’t. It is certainly possible to succeed as a nontraditional student. Doing it with a network of people who understand what you are going through can help you on the road to success. 

If you’re considering going back to school, take the next steps to achieve your goals and request information about our programs today.

Contact Information

Gordon College is one of the nation's premier Christian colleges and located just north of Boston. We offer students extraordinary access to leading-edge opportunities for intellectual, professional, and leadership development to address the increasingly complex challenges of a global society. Gordon stands apart from other outstanding institutions in New England by combining an exceptional education with an informed Christian faith.


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