10 Things an Adult Learner Should Know Before Going Back to College

Adult Learners going back to college10 Things an Adult Learner Should Know Before Going Back to College

  1. You are not special. While going back to college as an adult may have you feeling that you are embarking into uncharted territory, you are in fact joining legions of other students who have gone back to school later in life. Hundreds of thousands of college degrees have been earned by adult learners who are, fortunately, as non-special, and busy, and as financially tapped-out, as you are. In fact, it is the traditional student, a student who goes on to complete college right out of high school, who is the exception these days. Since going back to college as an adult has been done time and again, there are a number of proven resources in place to help you along your path to graduation. One of the best resources for adult learners? Online, one-on-one tutoring. Online tutoring (which is included for free with all StraighterLine college courses), allows you to get the academic help you need, the moment you need it. Just-in-time academic assistance, very kaizen.
  2. Learn to study with distractions. With online learning, you don’t have to study at a particular place or at a particular time – take advantage of this flexibility. Get used to studying in front of the kids or dog or what-have-you. Encourage your kids to do their homework at the same time you pull out your books or laptop. Feed your dog a treat every time you finish a problem set. Do what you gotta do, just don’t make excuses for not finishing your homework. Remember, monkey-see, monkey-do – inspire your little monkeys to earn a college degree just like their mom or dad. Seeing you study at the kitchen table will teach your kids far more important life lessons than any taught in school. And you seeing your kids will provide you with all the motivation you need to keep working through challenging concepts.
  3. Keep your laptop battery fully-charged at all times. This is worth repeating: always keep your laptop battery fully charged. When taking college courses, any time might be a good time to get schoolwork done. When your laptop is not in use, plug it in until fully charged. Half-charged is not good enough. If you don’t, when the day comes (and it will come) that an uncharged battery prevents you from taking advantage of an unplanned study opportunity or a change of plans requires that you complete school work on-the-go, you’ll be left frustrated and foul-mouthed if your computer shuts down. A fully charged battery in your laptop will make you a better student, spouse, friend, and parent. Trust me on this.
  4. Know the location of all Wi-Fi hotspots. If you are taking college courses online, it is critical that you know a number of reliable backup Wi-Fi hotspots. You’ll be surprised how widely connected you can be once you start paying attention. An “in-it to win-it” modern day college student should know where all Wi-Fi hotspots are at all times and have access codes to each of these (or know how to get them) in order to maximize their ability to study anywhere, anytime. If you know where Wi-Fi hotspots are, you can easily finish a problem set at gymnastics practice, read a chapter while eating lunch, ask a tutor a question during story time, finish a quiz while riding the city bus, practice study questions at the park, work on your Spanish pronunciation at the pool, finish a practice test on the way to your in-law’s house for Thanksgiving, or take an exam while escaping those same in-law’s at Thanksgiving.
  5. The college of hard knocks can earn you advanced college credit. Even if you didn't get to take advantage of AP credit when in high school you can still bypass a semester or two of college courses by earning college credit for what you learned the hard way. Earn transferable college credit for what you already know by taking advantage of PLAs (Prior Learning Assessment) and Excelsior College Exams.
  6. Be a grown-up: all adult learners can benefit from an academic tune-up. Taking refresher college-level courses in subject areas where you lack confidence or recent experience like English, or college algebra or calculus is a sure-fire way to build a sold academic foundation for the rest of your college career. After all, when was the last time you wrote a term paper, solved a polynomial or used a footnote? Even if some of the material in an introductory college course might be redundant, you will be able to reinforce the knowledge you do have, and polish those areas where your retention is rusty. Taking low-cost, self-paced online college courses will allow you to move as quickly through the material as you want without going into debt; with StraighterLine it is completely possible that you could complete a college course in a few weeks for the cost of a babysitter and a night out!
  7. Your energy should be maniacally focused on accelerating your time to degree. If you are an adult learner who knows exactly where you are headed career-wise, any course not directly related to earning your degree or advancing your career is a waste of time and money. Taking classes unrelated to your degree (though enjoyable and valuable) should be considered a luxury, and budgeted as a form of entertainment. Every week, every month, every year you shave off your time to degree will save you money and time, and bring you that much closer to earning your college degree.
  8. Think function, not form. Earning a degree as an adult learner is about acquiring credentials and competencies, not about where you get your degree. The tenacity it takes to complete a college degree while handling adult responsibilities is far more telling about your ability to work hard and be a reliable employee then where you go to college. You need to be able to prove you have what it takes to do a job; a competency-based college education does precisely that.
  9. If you are making a pro/con list about going back to college, rip it up. You will never overhear an adult learner regretting that they are on their pathway to a degree; often his or her only regret is that they didn't go back to college sooner. If you are thinking about going back to college some day, make that some day now. If you are motivated enough to make a pro/con list about taking college courses, you are motivated enough to go back to college. There will always be a reason not to fit college into your life, but finance doesn't have to be one of them. For just $99/month (plus a one-time course fee of $49), you can sign up for college courses through StraighterLine.
  10. You learn best how to go back to college by going back to college. Your first college course or course(s) will teach you more about how to go back to college than anything you will ever read – doesn't matter which course or what your intended major is. In fact, you should stop reading this blog post. Now. Seriously. You’re wasting time (see tip #7). If you want to earn your degree, now is the time for you to sign up for online college courses...


Beth Dumbauld
 is a writer who is passionate about helping others save money and time. She received her MBA from the University of Colorado and currently lives near Cincinnati, Ohio.

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