Strategies for Adult Learners Returning to School

by Erica Loop

    The rate of adult learners who are returning to school is on the rise, with a 4 percent change between 1995 and 2005, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. If you're considering going back to school after an absence to work or take care of family obligations, adopting a strategy that sets the stage for your educational re-entrance can help to ease the transition back into the academic environment.

    Ditch the Old School Thinking

    If it's been more time than you care to think about since you've hit the books, don't rely on previous notions of what is -- and isn't -- part of the college experience. Instead of starting school with the same mentality that you had a few years -- or decades -- ago, look at the contemporary college setting as an entirely new place. For example, embrace how technology has had an impact on the educational environment in recent years and invest in a lightweight laptop instead of just spiral-bound notebooks. Also, open yourself up to less traditional methods of taking classes, such as online courses.

    Connect to the College Campus

    While, as an adult learner, you aren't likely to show an interest in joining the campus sororities or fraternities, you can still connect to campus life. Invest yourself in the educational process by visiting the school and seeking out either a student support group for adult learners or an adult student affairs office. For example, DePaul University's Adult Student Affairs department offers community building activities and social networking opportunities through their Adult Student Center.

    Reschedule Yourself

    The time constraints that adult learners may face -- such as working a full-time job, driving car pool or caring for a young child -- often make returning to school somewhat of a scary proposition. Although, as a returning adult learner, you may not have the vast amount of time to devote to your studies that an unencumbered 18-year-old freshman does, you can cut the scheduling stress by budgeting your time wisely. Take a look at how you spend your time, and see what you can rearrange or trade in for school and studying time. For example, if you regularly go to the movies on Saturday afternoons, swap that leisure activity for study time. Another option is to investigate taking online classes. Online learning provides the freedom and flexibility to attend to work and family obligations without feeling pulled in multiple directions.

    Coping With the Cost

    According to the NCES, in the 2010-11 school year the average cost of a four-year public college was $13,564, or $32,026 annually for a private school. If funding your education -- along with paying your mortgage or rent, saving for your child's schooling and all of the other expenses that independent adults incur -- seems like an impossibility, come up with a strategy that helps you to pay for school without going broke. The Federal Student Aid program offers Direct Loans for students who demonstrate financial need, with -- as of 2013 -- a total of $57,500 possible loan funds for independent undergrads and $138,500 for graduate students. If you don't qualify for these loans, consider asking your employer if they offer tuition reimbursement for classes that directly relate to your job or visit a private lender.

    About the Author

    Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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