Tips for Adults / Mature Students going Back to School

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Maybe you’ve been out of high school for several years (or many years) or never graduated at all. Perhaps you’re a parent, a grandparent or have been holding down the same job for decades. Do you want to further your education but think your circumstances are a hindrance to going to college or university? The fact is, many in your shoes have already taken the leap.

“The most significant shift is probably the massive growth in the adult student population in higher education, reported The Atlantic’s Frederick Heiss (in his September 2011 article “Old School: College’s Most Important Trend is the Rise of the Adult Student”). Heiss continued, “Thirty-eight percent of those enrolled in higher education are over the age of 25 and one-fourth are over the age of 30. The share of all students who are over age 25 is projected to increase another twenty-three percent by 2019.

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Although there are a significant number of adult or mature students pursuing higher education, it can still be a big transition, particularly if you’ve already assumed many of life’s responsibilities.

Here are some tidbits to consider that make pursuing your degree or certificate that much more attainable.

  • Didn’t Graduate from High School? You are not alone. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people around the world take the GED, a high school equivalency credential recognized by all 50 states.  To find out what’s on the test, where you can take it and how you can prepare, visit:
  • Flexible Schedules: To accommodate a varied population of learners many schools now offer flexible learning options, including part time and online programs. This makes things a whole lot easier for parents (including single parents) and/or those wishing to maintain their day job. Furthermore, a number of colleges/universities now offer the option of starting school not just in September or January, but multiple times a year.
  • Gain Experience While Studying: “The more jobs, internships or volunteer positions you’ve racked up in your new, intended field before graduation, the easier it will be get hired when school is over,” wrote career coach Nancy Collamer for The Huffington Post  (July 14. 2013). In her article, Collamer recounts an e-mail forwarded to her from a 59-year old woman who couldn’t find work after graduating with a social work degree because she didn’t have any prior related experience. Choose a university program that includes internships or other experiential formats, or create your own opportunities. (If you are already busy enough with parenting or employment, such opportunities may need to be innovative, i.e. volunteering for a relevant program at your children’s school or organizing a related fundraiser at your work. You can do it!)
  • Scholarships/Financial Aid: There are a number of funding options especially for students who are not coming straight out of high school. Find out if the college/university you plan on attending offers scholarships and bursaries for single parents, adults or mature students. Additionally, if you are currently working, your employer may offer funding options for those returning to school. Some possible resources that may be of assistance include Federal Student Aid, the Adult Students in Scholastic Transition (ASIST) Scholarship and Association for Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education (which also offers scholarships).

Perhaps the most important tip to consider is the importance of building a support network before starting an educational program, including such people as close friends and family to cheer you on, extra caregivers for your children or an academic advisor at the school you will be attending.