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Ten Tips for Adults Considering College

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As a person who returned to school at age thirty-five, with three teenagers, worked a full-time job, and earned a physics degree, I understand what it’s like for the older student who chooses to go back to school. I learned many things along the way.

My best advice is to ask questions, read the catalog, research grants and scholarships available to you, then ask more questions. Below are just a few things to think about and consider when making your decisions.

1) Attitude is everything: If you charge right in, eager to learn, and you are willing to put forth the effort it takes, succeeding at school is possible. You are only as old as your attitude. Don’t let other people’s attitudes influence yours. You can do this. Ask questions in class. Ask questions after class. Your professors, for the most part, will appreciate your effort.

2) Childcare and dorms: Some colleges offer childcare and living quarters for single mothers, such as Wilson College in Chambersburg , PA. Through our experiences, my kids and I have found that renting an apartment is almost always cheaper than staying in the dorms. When making decisions regarding your living arrangements, be sure to ask about mandatory freshman cafeteria plans if you are going to stay on campus. These can usually be waived if you live close to campus.

3) Online courses: Many accredited state universities offer online courses for a variety of subjects. My children and I have taken several of these types of classes at the University of North Alabama. If you take an online course with plans to go on to a four- year university, be sure to ask the admissions office of the university you are planning to attend if the credit is transferable so that you are not throwing your money away.

4) Ask Google: Search the web for grants and scholarship opportunities according to your situation. There’s a SMART grant for science majors, a TEACH grant for education majors. Pell grants are also available if you meet income qualifications.

5) Go to Read everything and apply early. If you plan to attend in the fall, apply now. As soon as you get your taxes filled out, go to the website and fill out the FAFSA. You will need to have your tax documents available when you fill out the application. If you need assistance, use the online help at their website. You can also inquire at the Financial Aid Office of any college. Make an appointment to see them and discuss available funding opportunities.

6) Read the school’s catalog: Really read it. Make sure you find out if the university requires an entrance exam like the ACT for older students. Find out if they require the writing part of the exam. It is very important to know ahead of time what tests are required for admission so that you can be fully prepared.

7) Talk to Admissions: The Admissions Office or advisors usually have a worksheet showing how many hours and what types of classes are needed to graduate over and above what is required by your major. Ask for it. Most universities have policies about how many courses are required in all subjects beyond what is listed in the section for your major.

8) Local scholarships: Ask the Admissions Office for a list of scholarships given by the different clubs or departments at the university. If you are currently working, ask your employer if there are grants available from the company or if they have a tuition reimbursement program.

9) Admissions policy: Ask for the admissions policy for older returning students. Ask about the process turning experience into credits towards graduation. The military does this all the time with servicemen and also civil servants. It is becoming more common.

10) Withdrawal policy: Ask about the withdrawal policy and know when the last day is to withdraw. Keep in mind that it is better to withdraw than to fail a class. You can explain a withdrawal at an interview, but low GPA’s usually don’t produce interviews for jobs.

Going back to school is a lot of work. Asking questions makes some people feel stupid. Don’t let it. The best scientists in the world made all their discoveries because they wouldn’t stop asking questions. You really can go back to school and successfully graduate. Asking the right questions will help make it a better experience.


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