Tips for Working Adults Going Back to School

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  • The phrase "a college degree is the new high school diploma" is catching on quickly. More and more employers are requiring college degrees for jobs that previously only required a high school education and some job experience. There are very few companies left where you can start out in an entry-level job and work your way up to a decent salary without getting a degree. Earning a college degree is practically a pre-requisite for a successful career now. Additionally, many people decide to change careers at some point in their life and need education in order to do it. Whatever your reasons for going to college as a working adult, here are some tips to help you make the most of your experience.

    Pick a Major 

    If you are already getting off to a "late start," the last thing you want to do is just jump in and start taking classes with no idea what you are going to major in. At least know what type of career you are interested in such as IT, healthcare, etc. You can always change your mind later, but you should aspire to take as many classes as possible that count towards your degree without going over the number of electives available. Most college degree programs are rigidly structured, so the sooner you pick one, the less chance there is that you’ll pay for a bunch of credits that are a waste in terms of counting towards your degree. Take advantage of having an academic advisor and choose your classes wisely.

    Online vs. Offline Classes

    Many working adults need the convenience of online classes where they can learn and do their lessons at times that fit their schedule. On the other hand, online classes require more discipline and often require the student to take a more active role in the learning process. Waiting for an instructor to answer an email isn’t always convenient, so online students often have to rely on searching the Internet or asking classmates to get answers to their questions. By contrast, classroom learning is easier for some people because they need that face-to-face interaction and they are willing to adjust their schedule to attend classes. You should assess your personality and your situation honestly and decide which style of learning is best for you.

    Shop Around

    If you have previous college credits, the best bet is usually to try to find a school and program that will accept as many of your transfer credits as possible. You may even want to consider going to multiple schools in order to save some money. For example, many colleges and universities offer degree completion or accelerated programs in which they accept an Associate degree or a certain number or previous credits as the basis for their general education requirements and the student moves right into his or her major. Consider completing part of your education at a less expensive school and then transferring into a completion degree or accelerated program once you meet the requirements.

    Ask About Employer Tuition Reimbursement

    Check with your employer to see if the company offers any type of tuition reimbursement program. With some companies your choice of major may be restricted your profession, but this can often be liberally interpreted. For example, you may be able to pursue a business management degree no matter what profession you are currently employed in. Employers who do offer this option often base their compensation on your grades, so make it a point not to overload yourself to the point that you can’t keep your grades up. Even if you work for a small business that doesn’t have a formal program, speak to the owner about tuition reimbursement. He or she may be more receptive than you think.

    Look for Grants and Scholarship

    Unless you make an income that is well below poverty level, you likely won’t be able to get much money from Pell Grants. However, there are many other types of grant opportunities available. There are grants for working parents, women in technology, federal job retraining programs and more. Additionally, you don’t have to already be a student to get a scholarship. There are numerous types of scholarships out there offered by private organizations that are intended for working adults or less traditional students. A little time and research can save you a lot of money. Explore all the options you can find before you agree to take out student loans.

    Make a Firm Commitment

    The most important thing of all is that you have to be ready to go back to school. You don’t want to accrue student loan debt, take some classes, and then drop out with no degree to show for it. Going to college and working at the same time is harder than having two jobs. Be realistic about what you can do. Yes, you should push yourself somewhat, but don’t push yourself to the point of breaking. Once you start on the past to earning a degree or training certificate, keep it in your mind that you can’t give up. While taking classes part-time may make it seem like it will take forever to complete your program, it is a good way to keep yourself from getting burnt out.

    Getting an education is an investment, and not just financially either. You are investing in yourself, your career, and your future. It is important that you plan for your education as much as possible and know as much as you can about what you are getting into, both mentally and financially. Maintaining a work/school/life balance isn’t always easy, but more often than not, it really does pay off once you graduate. Have a clear vision in your mind of what your goals are and how you intend to accomplish them. If you know the what, where, why, when and how from the start then you will have a much better college experience and accomplishing your goals will be that much more satisfying.

    About the Author: Tony Standin is a personal finance specialist who loves to help others live strong financial lives and find ways to pay for and obtain higher education. Tony aims to help others better understand budgeting, and retirement planning and highly recommends you check out for more information about living a stronger financial life.

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