How to Return to College Years Later
If you’re an older student, let’s say someone who is approaching middle age or older, then you’re in good company. Many colleges and universities are peppered by so-called non-traditional students, people who have decided to return to college later in life.
Perhaps to pursue a new degree or to complete some unfinished business, mature students often have a completely different outlook on life, gained through life experience and accomplishing goals established when they were younger. That also means the campus setting has changed as colleges attempt to satisfy 21st century students.
For older Americans considering a return to college, there are some things to keep in mind as you set out on your quest:
Your options have changed – Many programs are now offered online, which means you may never have to set foot on campus to take courses and work toward your degree. This can be particularly advantageous for parents who are attempting to juggle work and family with their schedules. Under this arrangement, you can take classes and study on your own schedule.
You can wade in first – Most schools allow students to audit classes before committing to returning to college. By auditing, you can sit in a classroom, hear a lecture, take notes and interact with students. You won’t receive a grade and your time in class won’t count, but auditing will help you determine if college life is right for you and if a program you’re considering is a good match.
Make life experience count — You’ve gained plenty of knowledge and work experience over the past 10 or 20 years or more, perhaps enough where you can take a test and opt out some classes. The College Level Examination Program or CLEP can help you gain college credit for what you already know. With 33 exam programs available, your school may accept CLEP, helping you to finish your education sooner and for less money.
Check with your employer — Good employers expect employees to further themselves academically and will often reward those who are returning students by offering tuition reimbursement and other perks to help them reach their goals. Companies know that its shining stars will bolt for a better opportunity if educational fringe benefits are not available, therefore take advantage of this program if available to you.
If you attend school during the day, classrooms will be filled with people who are half your age. If you attend school at night or on weekends, you’ll have a better mix of younger and older students. In any case, your options are many including distant learning.
Adv. — Do you need cash for college? Scholarships, grants and federal student loans are options you should explore first. When cash remains in short supply, consider a private student loan to plug the college financing gap.