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So you’ve made the decision to go back to school. Congratulations! You’ve already taken the first step in furthering your education to enhance your earning potential or achieve a career transition. Wondering what to do next? We’ve got you covered. Follow these step-by-step instructions for going back to school as an adult to boost your success.

Step 1 – Do your homework

Before you can go any further, spend time researching the type of program or degree in which you’re interested. Investigate schools that will help you achieve your goals and remember to consider all post-secondary options, including two-year, four-year, online, certificate programs, and vocational schools. 

Factor in the time commitment and cost of attendance when evaluating which program is right for you. You may find that a shorter, non-degree program is a better return on investment. Conversely, some careers may require a master’s degree to reach your end goal.  Create a plan for how you (and your family) will adjust to the new schedule and financial obligations. 

Step 2 – Clarify requirements for admission

Once you’ve decided on which schools to apply to, contact the Office of Admissions for clarification on specific program requirements. Some of the questions you might ask include:

  • Are there prerequisites required for my program or courses I’m interested in? 
  • Will professional experience be taken into consideration for admission?
  • Does my program require a portfolio? 
  • Are there opportunities to meet with faculty members prior to admission? 
  • Which standardized test scores are required?
  • Will previously completed courses (including credit earned from AP, CLEP or DSST exams) transfer into the program?
  • Does the program accept rolling admissions, or are applications only considered once per year?
  • Is there an alternative admissions process for applicants over age 25?

This list could go on and on! Compose a list of questions and an admissions representative will assist in directing you to the appropriate person.

Step 3 – Schedule a campus tour if you’re considering an on-campus or hybrid program

Touring a college campus can give you a glimpse into what life could be like if you chose to study there. Make sure to visit areas you plan to frequent most, like the recreation center, student center, library, career center, and child-care facilities. Commuters should inquire about parking options including pricing for hourly and semester rates. Some programs will even arrange for more in-depth tours of the department, so don’t be afraid to ask to see anything and everything.

Step 4 – Apply for admission

Applications vary in requirements, but generally you will be asked to provide a copy of all prior transcripts. This includes high school, undergraduate, or any previous college courses completed. Don’t forget to include military (Joint Services Transcript) and vocational transcripts, as they could count for college credit. Most college applications can be completed online and require a processing fee. If you served in the military or fall within certain parameters, you may be eligible for a fee waiver. An admissions representative can assist with obtaining a waiver.

If you’re over age 25, make sure you check in with the school prior to submitting an application. Some admissions requirements may not apply for adult learners. Not exactly computer savvy? Ask the school if there is a representative available to assist you in filling out the application.

Step 5 – Apply for financial aid and scholarships

Once you’ve been admitted, your first step in obtaining financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). An advantage of the FAFSA is there’s no age limit to apply. So whether you’re 18 or 52, you can apply for federal student aid.

Next, reach out to your school’s financial aid office with any questions you may have for now or the future. For example, you will need to know how your aid may change based on part-time or full-time student status. So, if you accept a monetary amount as a full-time student and later reduce your credit hours, you will need to know how that change may affect your award. Also, when estimating expenses don’t forget to factor in transportation, course fees, and books.

Lastly, research scholarships, grants and prizes you may be eligible for. Check out Peterson’s scholarship search engine to access a list of awards applicable to you. Just type in your school, area of study, or location and receive instant results. 

The decision to return to school as an adult isn’t easy. For more advice on adjusting to life as a student, visit this blog post for tips on juggling family and classes, and learn how to connect with other students your age.