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How to Get a Degree While You’re Still Working
If you’re a working adult, also known as a non-traditional student, it might seem impossible to earn a college degree. However, there are plenty of ways you can go to college while you’re still working. Whether you’re interested in attending college for the first time or finishing a program you already started, there are a number of ways you can keep up with your job or other life responsibilities and still be a student.
Do You Really Need to Go To College?
When many people think of “going back to school”, the next step after high school appears to be a four-year degree. While this seems like a logical step, there are other ways to get an education. Consider if an Associate’s degree or a certificate program might be a better fit for your situation. Also give thought to whether it’s the entire degree that you truly want or if you prefer to take a handful of classes focused on a particular skill. If you're seeking career development - specifically a raise or a more satisfying job - you might be surprised to learn that a four-year degree isn't always the way to go. Many people have earned a certificate in a specialized area by attending a trade school, vocational school, or community college and found that their earnings and job satisfaction were greatly increased, all without needing to invest four years of time and energy into studies.
On the other hand, some ambitions can only be fulfilled by earning a four-year degree. For example, while there are "emergency license" programs available for teachers, you will need a four-year degree to be a public school teacher. You also need a four-year degree if you aspire to be a physician or a lawyer. But for some industries, a certification combined with experience is more valuable than a four-year degree, so investigate your aspirations to see which is appropriate.
Investigate a Community College
Community colleges are open-enrollment schools. Open-enrollment means just that: anyone can attend, whether you excelled in high school or whether you just barely got by and could care less. Community colleges also exist for people who just want to take a class for fun, not for grades. If you're a working adult wanting to go to college, community colleges are fabulous because they usually offer classes at a variety of times. You can attend classes online, at evenings, or on the weekends. Instructors at community colleges are used to teaching students of all age levels, and this makes an impact on the way they teach. Students from all walks of life and of all ages reach their goals by attending community colleges.
Look for a University That Recruits Adults
More colleges are becoming aware of how important it is to be responsive to what adult college students need. As you look for a place to enroll, look for a school that recruits adults. You’ll know which schools will be most flexible to your schedule if you know what to look for. See if you find words in their marketing materials or their websites, words like “non-traditional”, “life-long learner”, “flexible schedule”, “accelerated program” or talk about classes that meet beyond a day schedule. These words indicate that they understand the busy lives of adult learners, and that they want you on their campus.
If you don’t find evidence that adult students are welcomed with open arms, meet with an advisor in your major of interest. Get a copy of the classes you’d be required to take, along with the schedule of when these classes are offered. Ask if these classes are offered every quarter or semester, and find out if the classes are offered at a time that will meet your needs. Find out what would happen to your graduation plan if a change in your personal circumstances required you to drop a class.
Night and Weekend Classes Help Working College Students
While working full-time can leave you exhausted, night and weekend classes can get you to your goal of graduation. Depending on the type of class, these courses may only meet once a week, allowing you to plan your coursework in advance. As you sign up for classes, pace yourself and remember to keep your overall life balance in mind.
Online Classes Make Earning a Degree Easier
Online classes, also known as distance learning, are becoming more popular. Why could this make the difference for you? Consider the travel time involved with getting to school and how this adds up over time. Online learning can also allow you to work at your own pace, as it can remove some of the schedule restrictions that make attending class impossible. While the course format varies widely, reading books, watching videos, viewing PowerPoint lectures, or participating in online discussions are some of the assignments done in an online class.
Year-Round Classes Benefit Working College Students
While summer is the time of year that most schools slow down, it’s the perfect time of year for adult college students to make progress. Some universities offer classes during a term after the spring session and before their summer session. This small slice of time – which may be as little as two weeks – can give you the opportunity to study intensely and make enormous progress. Summer term classes are also a great chance to make progress towards a degree.