“Schools offer a variety of resources to help boost the confidence level of someone returning to college later in life,” she says. “Adults have so many other competing demands on their time. Resolving to take advantage of these resources can really make a big difference in their success.”
Smart Business spoke with Brogden about the challenges adults face when returning to college and how those challenges can be overcome.
How can working professionals benefit from returning to college?
For some people, no matter how knowledgeable or talented they might be, their employer won’t find them qualified for advancement without that degree. Other adults are seeking to make themselves more marketable, and most everyone recognizes the financial incentive to obtaining a college degree.
What options are available to working professionals who are considering returning to college?
Working adults will find plenty of options to suit their individual needs. Someone who needs specific skills training might consider a certificate program, and associate (two-year) degrees are another possibility. But a bachelor’s (four-year) degree offers the greatest benefits, and with the variety of coursework options that are available, a bachelor’s is an achievable goal.
Thanks to technology, online courses and distance learning have become increasingly popular. While it’s possible to complete an entire degree online, a hybrid approach that combines classroom with online coursework offers the best combination of convenience and educational quality.
Increasingly, colleges are offering greater flexibility in terms of times and days when classes are offered, including evenings and weekends, which cater to working adults. Highly motivated adults might consider accelerated courses that allow them to earn credits while investing minimal time in the classroom. Many schools also offer credit for college-level learning that takes place outside the college or university setting. Similarly, students can earn credits by participating in the College Level Examination Program and ‘testing out’ of subjects in which they are already proficient.
How can returning students determine the right program for them?
Two good Web sites to help returning students sort their options are www.adultstudentcenter.com and www.collegeboard.com.
Prospective students should also research individual colleges and course offerings. The easiest way to do this is by visiting the Web sites of colleges that interest them, but local libraries also carry basic information about colleges all over the country. Once they’ve decided on a specific college, they should pay a personal visit and talk with folks in the admissions department, faculty and career center. Another option is to attend on-campus information sessions for adult students.
How can one overcome the challenges of going back to school while continuing to work either full- or part-time?
There are a few things that all adults should ask themselves before going back to school. The first is how much time they have to devote to obtaining their degree, including time spent in the classroom, study time and commuting.
Second, how supportive is their family and how will this decision impact them? Similarly, it’s important to consider their work situation and their employer’s degree of flexibility.
Working adults may need refresher courses, especially in areas like math or computer skills. If that’s the case, consider adult education classes through local high schools and community colleges. There are even free Web sites that can help adults assess their skills, such as www.math.com and www.mathpower.com.
Lastly, returning students should avail themselves of all the resources colleges and universities have to offer, including peer tutoring, math labs, writing centers and organized study groups.
How can working professionals cover the costs of going back to school?
The first step to obtaining financial aid is filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the gateway for any type of federal, state or campus-based aid, including both loans and grants. Prospective students can also take advantage of free online scholarship search services like www.fastweb.com to find out what grants or scholarships may be available. But beware of sites that charge for their services or promise that you’ll receive scholarships.
An important source of funding for working adults can be their employers. Returning students should always check to find out if they have an education reimbursement program.
SUSAN BROGDEN is director of academic support at the College of Mount St. Joseph. Reach her at (513) 244-4524 or Susan_Brogden@mail.msj.edu.