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Best Advice for Adults Going Back to College: Peer Series

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A third of college students do not complete their degrees. This often means leaving school with significant debt but without the keys that unlock career doors. A college degree can lower your odds of unemployment. Degree holders also enjoy median weekly earnings of $1,334 — $435 more per week than people who attend college but do not graduate. 

College is a great investment in any market. No matter what you do now or hope to do in the future, graduating can help you earn more money. However, returning to college can be difficult. Otherwise, everyone would do it. But with creativity and the right support, you can make college work this time around. 

Here’s our best advice for adults going back to college, plus some helpful words of wisdom from SNU students who have been there:


Map out your plans now.

When you were a recent high school graduate, college was part of growing up — a chance to learn who you were and who you hoped to be. But now, you probably have a better idea of your ideal lifestyle. With that information comes a much stronger understanding of your hopes for the future. 

Going back to school begins with considering the best degrees for adults returning to college. It’s important to choose a degree program that will help you graduate with marketable skills and pursue a job you can enjoy for the rest of your life. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you plan for your future: 

  • Which jobs offer the highest chance of employment? 
  • How much do I need to make to achieve my dreams? 
  • Do I have any prior learning that could help me graduate faster in a specific degree track? 
  • What am I good at? Which skills have gained me the most positive feedback in prior roles? 
  • What do I like doing most? 
  • What work would fill me with a sense of pride? 

Get the right support in place. 

It takes a village to help you succeed when you return to school, especially if you have children. So begin assembling your village now. Some questions to get you started include: 

  • What might I need help with when I return to school? Who is most willing to help? 
  • Do I need childcare? 
  • Do I need to change my work schedule? 
  • What can I offer in return for some additional support? 

As SNU student Angellica B. describes, getting the support you need is critical when you have other life responsibilities. “I thought that it was too late to finish my degree. Working full time in a demanding job as well as being a mom and wife were obstacles for me. I thought that I would not have time to [pursue] a degree on top of everything else.”

However, asking for the help you need serves you and your family. She adds, ”To all the adult learners, it is okay to make your education a priority. I have always put my family first. It was time for me to better myself by pursuing my dream of having a college degree. I am doing this for my family as well as myself. You are worth the investment.”

Asking for help isn’t selfish. Your degree will empower you to give back to those who help you now and open doors to a brighter future for your family. Your spouse and other loved ones should recognize this and be willing to support your dreams. 


Learn from past mistakes. 

If you left college before, maybe you want to put it all in the past. Or perhaps you’re worried you’ll repeat the mistakes you once made. No matter how you feel about going back to college after dropping out, it’s important to come to terms with the challenges you faced. What made you leave? And what can you do differently this time? 

Brandon P., a recent SNU Master of Business Administration graduate, explains that moving on from your mistakes is part of the learning process. "One thing that I can say to an incoming student is be ready to fail and don't be scared to fail. The important lesson of failure is how you respond."

To improve your chances of success, spend some time developing your dropout prevention plan. This includes keeping a list of reasons you’re returning to school and strategies to get support if you feel overwhelmed. SNU’s chaplain can help. Our financial aid office can also support you with financial concerns, and our innovative VETS Center is here for soldiers transitioning to civilian life. 

Are you an adult student looking to manage your time, finances and schoolwork?  Download “The Adult Student’s Playbook to Managing Time, Schoolwork and Money”  today and gain valuable strategies to thrive throughout your academic journey. →


Protect your financial future.

Adults going back to college face a dilemma. They need enough money to fund their education today, but they also must avoid taking on more debt than they can manage in the future. Working with a financial aid office can solve this, giving adult learners a wide range of options to pay for school. You might be eligible for scholarships and college grants you don’t even know about. So don’t assume that going to college means going into debt. 

Similarly, you may worry that you won’t be able to fund the additional costs of returning to college, such as childcare, transportation or books. Loans — as well as most grants and scholarships — can help with these expenses too. Spend some time developing a college budget and be realistic. Consider how returning to school might increase your expenses and reduce your income. Then work with an advisor to apply for a financial aid package that suits your needs. The earlier you start, the better. 


Plan for your first day. 

Whether it’s a kindergartner being dropped off for the first time or an adult returning to college after a long hiatus, the first-day jitters are real. A strong start builds momentum that keeps you moving forward, so consider spending time preparing for your first day.

  • Test out all technology you’ll need ahead of time. 
  • If you’re going to school in person, visit the campus before your first day so you know where all your classes are. 
  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before, and take time to eat a healthy, nourishing breakfast. It’s easier to learn when you tend to your physical needs. 
  • Be prepared for a slow transition. It may take time to get into the swing of things, and you may feel anxious or out of place for a while. 

Get into a healthy routine.

Good habits build healthy lives. A daily routine makes it easier to embrace habits you want to cultivate. It also reduces decision-making fatigue so you can focus on doing whatever moves you closer to your goals. 

Try developing a daily schedule, then tweaking it based on results. For example, try to study in the same place around the same time each day. If you find that’s not going well, you may need to shift the time, eat before studying or wait until the kids go to bed. If you can implement this schedule before school starts, you’ll already have a strong routine when things get tough. So spend some time experimenting with various schedules now. 


Choose the right school.

No school is right for everyone, but choosing a school that caters to adult learners can increase your odds of a successful return to college. Before enrolling in any school, ask yourself the following: 

  • Does this school offer flexible scheduling that works with my other commitments and responsibilities? 
  • Can I attend classes virtually? 
  • How often will I need to be on campus? 
  • What does the school do to prepare me for my career? Are there networking opportunities
  • How quickly can I graduate? 
  • Can I get credit for prior classwork? Will my transfer credits go with me? 
  • Is this school regionally accredited? 
  • What is the school’s reputation in my community? 
  • What percentage of students are working six months after graduation?
  • What percentage of students get financial aid?

Once you’ve identified the right school for you, there’s no limit to what may be next in your life and career. As Misty B., a recent SNU Master of Leadership graduate recommends, “Just do it! It is what you make it. If you come to SNU with the desire and determination to improve yourself, you will receive what you need to finish your program as a better person than when you started.”

Flexible learning, including the option to take classes from the comfort of your own home, is critical to the success of most adult learners. Want to master studying at home so you can save time and reduce stress? Check out our resources.


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