How to Get the Most Out of College as an Adult
Updated By Staff Writer on July 2, 2020
The traditional problem of a young college student is deciding between studying all the time, partying all the time, or trying to be moderate about both—too much social life, none at all, or an elusive balance.
But are you going to attend college as a non-traditional adult student? Then you’ll have different problems and opportunities. You’ve already had life experiences. You might have a family and responsibilities. You might have even gone to college before.
You might just be looking for a way to quickly get a different degree and make your life and career better, to get more options.
The 15 tips below explain how to get the most out of your college education, especially when you’re not a typical student. They’ll help you get ready for the next step in your career, have some fun, meet people, and stay deeply engaged in your education.
1. Prepare Your Mind for Future Requirements
Your college may map out all the classes you’ll take for 2–4 years, so you can read over all of them in advance. Note any future ones that seem confusing. As you’re taking your first classes, seek information that you need or ask questions that will prepare you to be more successful in difficult later classes.
2. Watch Extra Lectures
If your college offers any extra online videos or live lectures related to your degree, watch them and take notes. Think about how to relate the new information to your current classes or to questions you have about your profession. Ask questions of the speaker, if possible. Look for or ask for a calendar of upcoming lectures.
3. Use the 80/20 Rule for Notes and Studying
Only 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results.1 When taking notes, try to write down just the most important 20%. When studying for quizzes and tests, don’t just memorize everything by rote. Instead, pretend to lecture about important points, referring to your notes occasionally. When you can sustain a mock lecture without notes, you’re ready.
4. Keep Course Materials
It’s tempting to sell or forget textbooks, but consider highlighting crucial ideas and keeping those books handy, along with well-organized notes on each subject. When you’re starting a new class, you can review your previous materials to prepare your mind to connect new information to what you’ve previously learned, increasing comprehension.
5. Get Tutored
Take advantage of any chance to get more individual attention from a tutor or a reader (who can proofread a paper for you). This can raise your grades and help you understand your classes better. At the same time, if you want to tutor others, you could learn a subject even better by explaining it.
6. Pick a Productive Studying Location
Your home may or may not be the best place for studying. You could also try a library, a coffee shop, an office, and other quiet or semi-quiet places. Find where you get the most done in the least time, along with different periods of the day or night. Remember, you might need to repeat materials out loud sometimes, so choose a location that is suitable.
7. Interact with Fellow Students
This is very relevant for in-person classes, but even in online courses you can participate in online forums, chat programs, or social media pages set up for your class. Be helpful, encouraging, and friendly to other students, as you’d like to be treated, and you could make long-term friends in your profession or industry.
8. Interact with Students Outside of Class
If you make any friends among the students in your area, you may be able to meet with them outside of class. Invite a group to a state park, plan a trip to an interesting site related to your coursework, or explore mutual hobbies together.
9. Balance Science, Humanities, and Other Fields
It seems like English majors wish they had studied science more, healthcare professionals wish they had taken an art class, and business majors wish they had read more literature. Head off regrets now. Commit to fitting in classes and experiences (like visiting art galleries or reading) that are not required and will make you more well-rounded.
10. Stay Healthy
When you’re studying hard, working, and raising a family, you might forget to eat healthy food, exercise, and sleep well. You might think you don’t have the time, but being healthy will give you more energy and focus for classwork in the time you do have. Learn how to get the most out of college by being healthy.
11. Find an Internship
If you’re already working in the profession you want, your degree could help you advance to a more interesting role. But if you’re entering a new field, search for an internship. Your internship experience could lead to a higher position at the same company or at another firm, so keep pursuing an internship until you get one.
12. Spend Time Talking to Instructors
Find out your instructors’ office hours, email addresses, or phone numbers. Think of short questions to ask them or email them, either about your classes or about how to be successful in your career. Don’t monopolize their time, but try to converse enough to build long-term professional relationships and friendships.
13. Take on a Longer-Term Project
If any are available, don’t avoid long-term projects of about a semester or longer. They’ll help you think more deeply about your field, and it’ll show potential employers that you are committed to and engaged with your profession. Projects can also help you build the proactive character of a leader.
14. Build Universal Skills
Look for opportunities to develop skills that are useful in many areas of your professional and personal life. These could include persuasive writing, public speaking, telling stories, understanding history and current events, active listening, and relationship skills. If you have to switch careers, these skills will stay with you.
15. Learn Grit in Failure
One of the most important character traits to learn in college is grit. Grit refers to being able to continue doing what you have to do even when you seem to be failing. It means trying something new, not feeling brilliant at first, and pushing through that hard time. It means giving your best effort even when the outcome is uncertain.
You’ll never know the future, never know if your major will be the “right” one or if your profession is going to last. But you can use your time in college to build universally good character traits and skills, form friendships, and round out your experiences—along with hopefully improving your immediate career!
Bonus Tip: Get the Most Out of College with Independence University
Do you want to find out more about how to get the most out of college? We offer classes here at Independence University geared toward non-traditional students so that you can balance your education and other responsibilities. Request more information here.