non-traditional students returning to college

Tips for Non-Traditional Students Returning to College

Updated By Staff Writer on June 11, 2020

So, you want to go back to college—or “go forward to college.” That’s great! Statisticians have found great benefits* of going to college, including greater opportunities and valuable skills.

However, we understand that when you’re older than the typical college age it’s hard to imagine yourself sitting in a classroom. Many of us don’t have the time for that!

That's fine, because technology now makes it easy to learn online from accredited colleges with real professors and well-crafted courses. Technology isn’t just for young people—the latest online programs are simple to use. Plus, certain courses may include hands-on portions.

By pursuing an education through an accredited online college, you can learn just as much as traditional students do and fit your learning time into your own schedule. That’s why we’ve put together these tips for going back to college later in life.

Read on to learn five pieces of advice for adults returning to college. You could be on your way to a college degree very soon.

Don’t Wait to Apply for Admission

The application process for traditional colleges can be complicated. Certain big universities even charge a fee to apply, and you will have to wait several weeks. The application process for online colleges is usually much simpler, and it’s usually free. You can do most of it right from your computer at home.

The first of our tips for going back to college is to apply for admission right away. That’ll get the process started; request more information from the college you’re interested in. All it usually takes is to type a few pieces of information into an online form and press “submit.”

It still might take you a little time to get through the whole process, so the sooner you start the sooner you can get into your courses and start building for your future. Take that first step so you can learn what the application process at your college is. You have nothing to lose by requesting information or continuing with an application at a later date.

The application process will often look something like this:

  1. Contact the college online and send in your initial information.
  2. Complete a questionnaire.
  3. Talk to a college financial planner who will explain the costs of your chosen degree and any financial aid available to you.
  4. Talk to an admissions consultant who will assist you in choosing a program.
  5. Talk to the director of admissions about your overall eligibility.

By starting the application process, you’ll get more information that can help you make a better decision, so apply right away.

Bypass Classes: Transfer College Credits and Other Accomplishments

If you’ve completed any previous college classes, request your transcripts from your past college(s) by calling or emailing them. Many online colleges are happy to apply your past credits to their programs, helping you complete them faster. They may even transfer your credits for free.

You can also get credit for classes thanks to:

  1. Eligible military training or experience
  2. Passing certain competency examinations
  3. Going through the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP)
  4. High school advanced placement (AP) classes

Put some of your old accomplishments to good use!

Considering going back to school? Learn what to expect when starting school at Independence University.

Explore Ways to Pay for College

Most Americans are only paying for current bills and maybe saving a little. How can you pay for something as expensive as college? That’s why advice for adults returning to college has to include a section about money.

It’s important to explore your options for financial aid. There may be sources of scholarships, loans, discounts, and other benefits that you don’t know about yet. If you’re in the military, are a veteran, or the spouse of someone in the military, you may qualify for military education benefits, which could greatly decrease what you would need to pay.

Many online colleges will give you a free meeting with a member of their financial planning staff who will explain the possibilities to you. He or she will probably ask you if you’ve filled out the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid), so you might as well take care of it in advance.

Finally, remember that many students see their tuition costs as an investment. No one can promise you a career, because your life is what you make of it. But we definitely agree that a college education is a great step toward one.

Take Advantage of Well-Trained Academic Counselors

In a traditional college, when you first start you meet with an academic counselor who helps you plan how you’ll complete all your required courses and where they will all happen. You might flip through a catalog of classes and mix and match what you want.

In contrast, if you’re going to college online, your course schedule will be ready automatically. Browse through the degree programs on an online college’s website. You should be able to click on each program and see the classes lined up already—very convenient for busy adults who can just work through a pre-set list of classes without complicated planning.

Before you get into your program, though, you’ll probably be required to talk to an admission consultant and maybe the director of admissions. It might be easy to want to skip these meetings. Maybe you think they won’t have anything new to tell you.

However, our advice is to move heaven and earth to keep your appointments with them. Learn everything you can from your counselors. If you don’t get into the program you want, they might give you information that will get you in the next time. They could also give you tips on how to be more successful in your classes if you’re struggling.

Some traditional college counselors actually have a different job and only help students schedule classes on the side. But online programs usually focus much more on customer service. Their organization depends on it!

Online counselors are usually trained to know everything about their products (your degree programs). They use the results of your questionnaire or career assessment to guide you to the programs that fit your background and your goals. So you can trust them as invaluable resources.

Set a Detailed Schedule

If you have family responsibilities, it’s vital to use a scheduling system that works for you. You’ll need to keep track of appointments, study time, classwork time, errands, family activities, and many other items. Schedule them as precisely as you have to, even in 15-minute blocks.

If you feel that you’re keeping up with everything, your college experience will feel like a constant series of wins. Otherwise, it could feel like a burden.

You can even schedule homework time for you and your children together—assuming your children won’t distract you too much from your own homework. They might even be more motivated by seeing that Mom or Dad is also continuing to learn. You’ll be setting a great example for them.

What if you find that you can’t keep up with everything? You could start gathering a supportive group where you can dedicate some of your time to schoolwork. The main point is to make sure you start off with a purposeful plan for balancing everything you have going on in your life.

Get Started Today

We hope you’ll start using these five tips for going back to school as soon as you can. If you’re just starting to think about going back (or forward!) to college, let us send you some information that will help you learn more about what we offer so you can make a better decision.

As you read the information, something could spark your interest and motivate you to learn more. Request more information here, and let Independence University help you get started the right way. Who knows? You could be on your way to a degree—and valuable new skills—very soon!