Think You're Too Old To Go Back To School? Not Likely!
Thinking of going back to school? Your kids are all grown, and you have more time on your hands, or maybe you need the skills to meet today’s job market demands or simply feel that this is the time to fulfill that lifelong dream. Whatever the reason, you have made up your mind, and now you have a few questions about what to do.
If you have been out of school for a while, you will discover quite a few things have changed since you were in school last. The things you learned in the past stayed in the past, buried in the farthest recesses of your mind, archived away never to be found. You will find the math you were so good at is now rusty, and your English grammar needs lots of revision. Whether you have some college in your past or not, the experience will be all new to you, and that can be scary. However, do not let fear of the unknown deter you. The hardest part was making a decision, and now that you have, the rest is just a matter of becoming informed about the process.
Personally, I decided to go back to college when my only child was still in high school. I got to know the college so well that later I was hired to work there. My experience as a student was exhilarating and daunting at the same time; however, I not only learned many valuable lessons that will last me a lifetime but I set an example for my own child when he went off to college.
One valuable lesson I learned was if you were ever lacking in self-confidence, college would build that in you. Self-doubt goes out the window when you see the rewards of your hard work. Self-assurance and strength in character begin to develop as you acquire not only knowledge but also skills that will help you in your life.
Other great lessons I learned were commitment, self-discipline, and organization. You will also learn determination if you are lacking in that area. If you do not learn to develop these qualities, you will find yourself struggling through the process, and sadly enough you may even find yourself failing or quitting. Therefore, the tips I will offer here are to help you because they come from years of personal experience, first as a student then as an employee at my college.
Let us begin with some useful tips to help you along the way.
- Assuming that you have already worked it out with your family, your pets, significant other, or your boss, the decision is made; you are going back to school. Next, have you thought about your interests? Have you defined your educational goals? Are you interested in a degree or a certificate program? If you decided on a degree but are not quite sure of which, that is perfectly ok. Many students do not know at first the direction in which they want to go. Some even change their minds several times during the course of their studies until they find their niche. A guidance counselor at the college you will attend can help you decide. However, when choosing your career path, be realistic. I met a student in his sixties who wanted to be a doctor. It is not that it wouldn’t be possible, but by the time he finished college, med school, and an internship… well, you can imagine the rest.
Choosing a School
- Have you decided on a school yet? If not, start by searching for a school. If not sure, make a list of schools you may want to attend, then do your homework, and find out about the schools. Colleges and universities have their websites designed to answer many questions. However, unless you plan to attend online college, a visit to the college would be better. Calling them can get you some answers, however, most schools are bombarded with phone calls, and the limited time spent on the phone with you, may or may not get all your questions answered. Therefore, it is better to visit the school, and get the face-to-face attention you cannot get over the phone. While you are there, do not forget to pick up a course catalog and all the forms needed to get you started.
The Next Step
- Each school works a little different. You may have to fill out their school application first. Other schools may require that you make an appointment with the college’s academic counselor first, and then attend an orientation class. Some schools may offer new students the convenience of doing the orientation online while others will make it a requirement before enrollment. There are also schools that will offer tours to prospective students as part of their orientation. All these are questions you will need to ask the school when you call or stop by.
- You will need your high school diploma or GED, and unless you are fresh-out of high school, you will either need to take an assessment test or have your transcripts from your previous college sent to the registrar’s office. If you need to take their assessment test, some schools may have study guides or refer you to online sources to help you review that math or English you have forgotten. I have found that the GED book can be of great help if you need to review for the exam, and there is no need to purchase the book because many libraries now have them.
- If after taking the assessment test, you find that you may have to take remedial or preparatory classes before going on to college level classes, the school may give you the option of retesting or accept the suggested prep classes. In my experience working with students, I find that it is best for the student to take the prep classes if they have been out of school for a while. Sometimes students who chose to retest, pass the second time around placing them in college level courses. Then later discover, they cannot keep up with the college level classes, and revert to choosing the remedial courses.
- Having a little difficulty paying for classes and books? Talk to a financial aid counselor at the school about your options. The application for financial aid is free. However, the application can take a few weeks to process. Therefore, if you are seeking financial aid, be sure to submit your financial aid application early before the school term begins; preferably six to seven weeks before tuition for your classes are due.
Enrolling for classes
- Now that you have talked to the school, and have taken all the initial required steps, it is time to decide on your courses, and enroll for classes. Your school counselor will be the person to consult for guidance. Once you enroll in your first set of classes, you will have the opportunity to meet and talk to other students. They can share with you their experience of previous classes or instructors, and become great study partners.
- If you work full time and/or have a family to take care of, limit the number of classes you will take in one term. I find that one, but no more than two classes, are more than sufficient to start with. If by the end of the term, you find you are able to handle more, you can enroll for more classes the following semester. When I enrolled for classes the first time around, I made a big mistake in enrolling for three classes, while working a full time job; I almost dropped out of school from overwhelming exhaustion. The entire term I spent in tears kicking myself for doing so, and promised myself never to do that again.
- When you enroll for classes, pairing a challenging class along with an easy class works out for many. My challenge has always been math. When I had to meet the math class requirements, I spaced out my math classes throughout the year. I also paired the challenging classes with an easy class. I learned, the hard way, it is better to take your math classes back-to-back. I found that if you wait too long to take your sequential math classes, you will forget what you learned from your last class.
Regular Classes vs. Online Classes
Most schools now offer online classes. It is the preferred choice of many working students, students with families, and students with handicaps. Many find online classes better suits their daily schedule. However, online classes are not for everyone, and there are a few things you must know in order to be successful in an online class:
- Firstly, responsibility is the key when taking an online class. It is the responsibility of the student to be clear on what is expected of them and be able to deliver what is required. Generally, students are required to have a basic knowledge of computers, check their e-mails daily, complete assignments, reports, homework, chapter readings, and take online exams. Furthermore, they need to stay informed of any changes or class scheduled meetings. As to what, when, and how, it is the student’s responsibility to find out from their instructors.
- Naturally, online classes demand more work, self-discipline, and determination than regular classes. You will not have anyone reminding you of when assignments, reports, readings, and exams are due. The student has to stay on top of deadlines, learn to prioritize, and organize their work. Therefore, if self-discipline, organization, and determination are not your strength, consider instead enrolling in a class that meets regularly.
- If you have a subject that is challenging to you, let’s say math, students will do better in a regular class. In a regular class, you will have the instructor in front of you, illustrating the math problems on the board, and answering all your questions in person, something you will lack in an online class.
First Day of School
- You made it to your first day of school. You look around and you see that you are surrounded by young, glowing faces. If you have been out of school for a while, you may feel ancient in comparison. Do not feel intimidated by these young, fresh minds; they are probably used to sitting next to older students. Now that you have survived the initial shock, focus, and stay on top of things. Go over your syllabus carefully. Know what is required of you in order to complete the class successfully. Ask questions from the instructor if things are not clear. I have found it is better to ask early on to avoid the embarrassment later, in having to explain why I did the assignment wrong.
- Develop a relationship with your instructor, and keep the lines of communication open. Let them know of any unusual circumstances that prevent you from being in class or as to why you are falling behind. You will find that most instructors will work with their students, if their students are sincere, and do not abuse their good nature.
- Get caught-up on any work missed and keep absenteeism to a minimum. Not being in class or being consistently late is not only distracting to others, but can affect your grade tremendously. When you are not in class, you are missing lessons you will need to know.
- Come prepared. You will need your textbooks, notebooks, pencils and pens. Remember to keep your cell phone and other electronic devices turned off, and placed away while in the classroom. The distractions they cause in classrooms have become a major problem in schools today.
Learning Assistance for Students
Sometimes students will find that they need extra help with their courses. Fortunately, schools are implementing many programs to help students succeed.
- Self-improvement classes are available to help students transition to college life. These classes will show the student how to develop positive study habits, and overcome many obstacles students face.
- Many schools provide tutors and paraprofessionals, and are available to their students at no charge.
- Workshops are also provided by many schools to help students with their courses.
- The library is another great source for help. Self-help books, DVD’s, and audio tapes are available to help students. Sometimes instructors will place items in reserve to help their students with the lessons. The library is also a good place to go for students who lack home computers or internet service.
- Check with the school about their help resources. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Even the best student needs help. If help is available, take advantage of it.
What to do when feeling overwhelmed?
In the course of time, students may begin to feel overwhelmed with the demands of school and home life. They may begin to feel as if they have taken on more than they can handle. Perhaps they will face personal problems beyond their control. Some will begin to have doubts and come to feel as if they are just not getting it, or are not cutout for college. They will feel their only option is withdrawing from class or quitting all together. Whatever the reason for these thoughts and feelings, do not fear, you are not alone. These thoughts and feelings are all normal.
So what do you do? Wisdom dictates never make a decision about anything in life when you are overwhelmed with emotions. The decisions you make while you are emotionally charged, can end up costing you much, and leave you with many regrets. Since we are talking about giving up a class or school altogether, the best person to speak with is your instructor. I can safely tell you that most, if not all, want to see their students succeed. They can help you, and give you advice, and if they cannot help you, they can direct you to the right person.
Maybe your instructor is the problem. Then what’s next? Talk to their immediate supervisor. Let them know you are having a problem with the instructor. Be specific, and try to keep your emotions under control when you speak with them. You can also talk to the school’s ombudsman or assigned mediator. Find out who you can talk to, and what you can do to remedy the problem before making the decision to withdraw.
If you still decide to drop out of class or school, it is not the end of the world. You will have other semesters to re-enroll. Perhaps this will give you enough time to work out your personal problems; however, the longer you wait, the harder it will be on you. You will not only find it hard to get back into the routine but you will also have lost valuable time. Furthermore, if you are receiving financial aid, you may be penalized for not meeting the financial aid requirements.
Reaching Your Goal
The length of time it will take a student to get their degree depends primarily on the student. If you are planning to attend full time with no lapses or deviation from your major, you can earn your Associates of Arts (AA) or Associates of Science degree (AS) in about two years. If you are going half time, it can take you almost twice as long.
If you already have an AA or AS degree, or a bachelor’s degree (BA or BS), it can take another two to four years, depending if you are going full time or half time, have no lapses or changes in your major, or need to take additional classes.
If you are not seeking a degree, a certificate program may be the way to go. Certificate programs can take one or two years. Again, talking to an academic counselor will help you in this area.
Once you reach your goal, and find yourself walking in your cap and gown towards that hard-earned diploma, there will be nothing in the world to stop you. You probably went in scared and full of doubt, and emerged a more confident, stronger, disciplined and determined person. Maybe you are left with quite a few burned-out brain cells, but you survived. Now you can hold your head up high and hang that diploma smack in the middle of a room where everybody can see it, including your grandchildren.
- Back to College: Online and On-Campus Degree Programs for Adults
News and resources for adults returning to college, including online and on-campus degree programs, financial aid, grants, and scholarships.
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