Going back to school as a working adult can be very exciting yet overwhelming at the same time, especially for students who dropped out in the past before completing a degree. Taking the leap to continue your education brings on a lot of new challenges. From finding the money to finding time, working adults going back to college face different obstacles than traditional students. However, if you’re prepared, you can easily overcome these obstacles and successfully transition into life as a college student. 

To make the this transition back to school as smooth as possible, take a look at the following checklist to ensure that you’re prepared and ready to return to class. 

1. Assess your finances

College is an investment in your future, but in order for you to see any return on that investment, you’ll need to contribute. As a college student, one of the ways you’ll be contributing to your investment is through your tuition.

Though some working adults pay for college strictly from earnings, some may qualify for loans, grants, and even scholarships, according to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. Adults can also take advantage of 529 college-savings plans for themselves. Many awards start with completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Good colleges will have financial services advisors to help you track this and other paperwork. It’s also important to set a realistic household budget that allows for school-related expenses.

As you begin to structure your financial options, it’s important also to create a household budget to help reallocate your expenses to include your college tuition. Start by writing down your monthly expenses and see if you can find any “money wasters.” For example, eating out at restaurants, buying new stereo equipment, or even your daily trip to the coffee shop could all be considered money wasters. Try cutting back on things that you don’t truly need and save that money for your education.

2. Gather information and transcripts

Before you start a new endeavor, it’s important to gather as much information as possible. Going back to college is no different. Before you start your first day of class, you’ll want to make sure that you’re setting yourself up for success.

If you’ve gone to college before, you want to make sure those classes count. Unfortunately, this process isn’t always smooth. Students have to be proactive in tracking down transcripts.

Starting early and leaving time for complications is better than a panic if things bog down unexpectedly. Additionally, speaking with a college advisor is one of the easiest and quickest ways to gather information before heading back to school. Advisors are prepared to assist you with questions pertaining to financial aid, transfer credits, high school and college transcripts, life experience credits, military benefits, entrance requirements, classroom experience, and they can also walk you through the application process once you’ve decided to make the leap.

Reach out to the school in which you’re interested, and provide them with your information. Many schools prefer this approach because it allows prospective.

3. Get credit where credit is due

These days, some colleges offer prior learning assessments that give credit for corporate training or seminars. Even if you weren’t in school, you developed real-world skills. Your life experience – whether in the military, in the workforce, or in the home – is extremely valuable. And that gives you an advantage over younger students who move directly from high school to college. You have a wealth of practical and applied knowledge that you can share and contribute to your fellow students.

With the University of Arizona Global Campus, you may also have your work and military experience evaluated for college credit. When you translate your training and work history into transfer credits, you shorten the time it takes to graduate and save on tuition.

4. Dress your desk for success

Make sure you have the equipment you need. It’s possible, particularly with UArizona Global Campus Mobile, to keep your online classes and materials right at your fingertips. But you’ll also need a working smartphone or tablet and Internet access. It’s imperative that you create a clean, quiet, and organized space where you can be free from major distractions.

Your study space could be a room in your house, a corner in the library, or a peaceful setting outdoors. Wherever you decide to study, be sure it’s in a place where you can dedicate your attention to your coursework. This designation can potentially increase your success with future assignments.

5. Prepare for a learning curve

Many adults have gone years without studying, which means skills such as note-taking could be rusty, and it has probably been a while since you’ve opened a textbook or written a research paper. It’s important to brush up on your student skills before returning to school.

Time management, study sessions, assignment deadlines, and classroom etiquette are all things that you’ll be faced with when you return to school. Do your best to prepare for these situations and maybe even practice a few before your first day in the classroom.

6. Research resources

Don’t be afraid to seek assistance if you ever find yourself confused. Returning to college can present new and foreign experiences. It’s totally normal to not understand things completely the first time you experience them. But you shouldn’t feel apprehensive about reaching out whenever you need help.

Be aware of your resources when you return to college. Once you know where to find help, you’ll be more inclined to use that support system. This support may come in the form of a college advisor, a specific department, or a professor within the classroom. Academic resources like the Writing Center can help you overcome writing challenges. It’s there whenever you need it, whether you’re making sure you cite your sources correctly or want to brush up on basic skills.

Wondering about the technology you need for online school? Check out our tech readiness assessment.

7. Consider your personal obligations

Consider the ways your choice to return to school may impact your relationships. According to EdTech magazine, 60 percent of online college students work full-time and 68 percent chose an online college so they can balance work, family, and school. For family members who’ve dedicated their lives to raising and caring for others, they may find it hard to take time for themselves to finish their homework. Talk to your friends and family before enrolling and tell them why education is so important to you. Don’t forget to build down time into your schedule for friends and family, whether it’s making sure you never miss your kid’s Little League game or joining co-workers for happy hour once a week.

While attending school, you may also establish new relationships. If you’re a working adult, you will find yourself among true peers in both classwork and lifestyle. Reach out to classmates you meet through discussion groups and Facebook pages. They’re invaluable for support as well as for help with questions.

When you maintain healthy relationships throughout your transition to college, you create a strong support network that will empower you.

8. Create a detailed plan, but be ready for unexpected changes

A 2012 paper titled “Changing Course” by the Babson Survey Research Group found that 88 percent of academic leaders believe discipline is more important in online programs than in traditional classrooms.

Time management will play a big role in your success as a college student, especially if you’re returning after a long break. One way to make the transition back into the classroom easier is to create a schedule. Take a look at your calendar and block out specific time periods to dedicate toward your coursework.

One of the most important ways for adult learners to create a schedule is to stay realistic. Setting aside half an hour to study might not be enough. On the other hand, not giving your family enough time can also impact your life. The point is to prioritize what you need to do each week. It’s also a good idea to let your family know that your schedule will be changing. Discuss how this change will affect everyone else and try to develop a schedule that fits best with the entire family. Once everyone is on the same page, sticking to your new schedule will be much easier.

Going back to school as a working adult requires planning ahead and getting organized. Implement some of the tips above to help you stay on course with your education and make the transition easy.

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