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The more energy you invest in the planning process when going back to college, the more likely you’ll be to find the school that’s right for you. Just as students in high school need to get prepared for the admissions process, so do students interested in continuing education.

The summer before: Planning your course of action

Choose your path
You may be considering a four-year college, vocational school, or community college. Consider how each will help you achieve your goals. Also think about whether you’ll want to attend full- or part-time.

Seek guidance about going back to college
There may be an alternative admission process for students over the age of 25. If so, you’ll want to know about it! Meet with an adviser at the school or schools that you’re considering. Look for more information about going back to college, too.

Organization is everything
Start a file for brochures and admission materials. Another good way to keep organized is to conduct a college search by state, major, school size, or other factors. Keep your results recorded, and see where they match to give you some good ideas. A good college search is an organized college search!

Fill your date book
Figure out when you’ll be taking admission tests or CLEP exams and mark them on your calendar. As you begin your preparation, take a practice test — it’ll help you figure out what to study.

Get a head start on financial aid
There are millions of scholarships and students returning to college qualify for many of them. From local organizations to online searches, look everywhere and apply!

Early fall: Preparation is key for tests and applications

Don’t be modest
When filling out college applications, many returning students draw a blank when asked about their accomplishments. Think about what you’ve done, in and out of the classroom. This can be the source of a compelling admission essay down the road.

Get your tests out of the way
Whatever combination of tests you’re taking, make sure you’re ready. There’s plenty of test prep info out there to get you as prepared as possible. Study as much as possible, but relax the night before.

Start writing
Feeling nervous about your college application essay? Start early. Writing’s like anything else — you get better the more you do it.

Compare apples to apples
As a returning student, you may have a better idea what you want to study. Figure out how colleges and universities stack up, according to what matters most to you. Take a look at catalogs and websites to find information on programs and continuing education courses.

Late fall / early winter: Don’t miss your application deadlines!

Watch the clock
You don’t want to miss an application deadline to go back to college!

Submit the FAFSA
The FAFSA form is your number one priority for financial aid purposes — it’s the gateway to all state and federal funds. Get it in as soon as possible after January 1.

Spring: Continuing education awaits!

Play the waiting game
You should receive a college acceptance decision by March or April. Good luck!

Keep it Cool

Looking at everything above, you may find yourself feeling that the process of going back to college is overwhelming. There are so many steps, so many things which need to be done, and it may just come off as too monumental. If that happens, take a deep breath, relax, and focus on one thing at a time. Are you in the early fall? Then worry about getting yourself registered for the tests, and study for them. Then, once you’re feeling like you’ve got that under control, turn your attention to the other steps in applying for continuing education.

Going back to college is something anyone can do. All that continuing education will take is focus, drive, and work. (And a helpful timeline.)

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